Katharine "Kitty" Minehart, actress and artistic director of the Germantown Theatre Guild, died May 19, five days before her 97th birthday, at Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers, Mass.

Ms. Minehart's acting career began early: When she was 4, she appeared in A Christmas Carol, which her mother, Violet Minehart, directed in a Philadelphia church. Several years later, her mother converted the barn on the family's property into a playhouse and established the Germantown Theatre Guild.

Ms. Minehart, who studied acting in Europe and in New York, appeared in many of her mother's productions. As a young woman, she pounded the pavement seeking work on Broadway, and she went on to direct or perform in more than 250 plays in New York, at the Germantown Theatre Guild and other regional theaters, in summer stock, and on tour. She also appeared on television in soap operas and in commercials.

In 1947, she played Katherine in the Germantown Theatre Guild's production of The Taming of the Shrew on Channel 3, then WPTZ-TV. It was described as one of the first telecasts of its kind.

In the 1950s, Ms. Minehart succeeded her mother as artistic director of the guild. When adult audiences began to drop off in the early '60s, the guild presented more children's productions and offered drama classes.

"You've got to have new direction, new programming," Ms. Minehart told an Inquirer reporter in 1977. "Smaller children love the puppet plays and mime shows. Older children and their parents enjoy Shakespeare or You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

In 1985, the Germantown Theatre Guild and the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts created the Philadelphia Theatre Caravan. The touring theater produced plays for young people for the next 15 years.

Ms. Minehart believed social responsibility in the theater was important, said her daughter, Pamela Courtleigh. Ms. Minehart told a reporter in 1977, "We just cast without regard to race." She conceived the idea of the play Sojourner Truth, which was produced by the guild in 1979 and toured as far west as Michigan and as far south as Louisiana. Her daughter was one of the actors in the docudrama about the former slave.

Ms. Minehart, who received several awards from the theater community, was honored as "a pioneer in the concept of creating interracial theater" by the steering committee of the Philadelphia Barrymore Awards in 1996.

For more than 40 years, Ms. Minehart was married to Daniel Lounsbery, an actor and Emmy Award-winning television producer. The couple lived in the 18th-century family farmhouse next to the Germantown Theatre Guild's barn and maintained a pied-a-terre in New York City.

Ms. Minehart, who briefly had a home-decorating television show, collected Alice in Wonderland and Shakespeare memorabilia. "Don't ask me the why of the combination; it just happened," she told an Inquirer home-design writer. She said she arranged rooms "as if they were part of a stage set."

After her husband died in 1993, Ms. Minehart remained active with the Germantown Theatre Guild, now the Germantown Theatre Centre, until the late 1990s. In 2002, she sold her Germantown property and moved to Chestnut Hill. For the last four years, she lived in Massachusetts to be near her daughter.

Ms. Minehart served on the boards of several arts associations, including the Walnut Street Theatre. She was also on the board of the Edwin Forrest Home in Philadelphia, which had been established for retired theater people through the bequest of Forrest, a prominent Shakespearean actor who died in 1872.

In 1986, Ms. Minehart was involved in the merger of the Edwin Forrest Home with the Actors' Fund of America Home in Englewood, N.J., and she served on the Actors' Fund board. Well into her 90s, she was hopping a train to New York for board meetings, her daughter said.

Until two or three years ago, Ms. Minehart traveled to Englewood for the annual Shakespeare birthday party there. In his will, Forrest had allocated money for the Bard's celebration.

Ms. Minehart would regale guests with details of Forrest's divorce scandal, said David Wren, an Actors' Fund member. She also gave a spirited account of the 1849 Astor Place Riot in New York, Wren said. The riot was precipitated by a feud between Forrest and William Macready, an English Shakespearean actor. Their partisans battled each other and police outside a theater in which Macready was performing; 22 people were killed.

Courtleigh said her mother had never lost her love of life and had been active until two months ago.

In addition to her daughter, Ms. Minehart is survived by a stepdaughter, Alexandra Lounsbery.

A memorial gathering will be held at 4 p.m. June 19 at the Germantown Theatre Centre, 4821 Germantown Ave.

Memorial donations may be made to the Actors' Fund of America, 729 Seventh Ave., New York, N.Y. 10019.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.