“You would not be here and I would not be speaking if we were not looking forward together to a better tomorrow than our yesterdays.”
Gratia Countryman, 1934 speech, Montreal
For Gratia Countryman, woman suffrage was top of mind when she graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1889. Countryman believed voting rights needed to be protected. Her focus on educating voters influenced her career as a librarian.
When Countryman was hired as director of the Minneapolis library system in 1904, she was paid significantly less than her predecessor, who was a man. Since her life partner, Marie Todd, was a woman, their combined household income was less than that of a man and woman.
Despite the pay inequity, she worked tirelessly for the library system and marginalized communities in Minneapolis. Under her leadership, the library extended its services to working people, immigrants, and people experiencing home displacement. Countryman was active in women’s clubs in Minneapolis. She established the Women’s Welfare League (WWL) and was the organization's first president. The WWL ran a lodge for working women, a home for girls living with psychiatric disabilities, recreation facilities for children, and nursing homes for elderly women.