Grace Lee Nute was born in North Conway, New Hampshire. She earned a bachelor's degree in American literature from Smith College in 1917, a master's from Radcliffe College in 1918, and a doctoral degree in American history from Harvard University in 1921. She moved to Minnesota in 1921 and began her career as the curator of the Minnesota Historical Society's manuscripts collection, a position she held until 1946. She served as a research associate from 1946 to 1957. She also taught Minnesota history at Hamline University from 1927 to 1960, rising to the rank of professor, and was a visiting professor at Macalester College. Dr. Nute pioneered the use of microfilm and photocopies to preserve manuscripts and make them more accessible to scholars. She wrote manuals on collection preservation and organization and also wrote books and articles on the fur trade and the exploration of Minnesota, including The Voyageur (1931) and Caesars of the Wilderness (1943). Beginning in 1957, she served on the editorial board of The Naturalist, the Natural History Society of Minnesota magazine.