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Grange Hall in Maine, circa 1910


The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, also simply styled the Grange, is a fraternal organization for American farmers that encourages farm families to band together for their common economic and political well-being. Founded in 1867 after the Civil War, it is the oldest surviving agricultural organization in America, though now much diminished from the over one million members it had in its peak in the 1890s through the 1950s. In addition to serving as a center for many farming communities, the Grange was an effective special interest group for farmers and their agendas, including fighting railroad monopolies and advocating rural mail deliveries. Indeed, the word "grange" itself comes from a Latin word for grain, and is related to a "granary" or generically, a farm.

In 2005, the Grange had a membership of 300,000, with organizations in 3,600 communities in 37 states. Its headquarters are in a building in Washington, D.C.marker, built by the organization in 1960. Many rural communities in the US still have a "Grange Hall".

History

Promotional poster offering a "gift for the grangers", ca. 1873.
There were seven co-founders of the Grange: Oliver Hudson Kelley, William Saunders, Francis M. McDowell, John Trimble, Aaron B. Grosh, John R. Thompson, and William M. Ireland.

President Andrew Johnson sent Oliver Hudson Kelley to the South to collect agricultural data. As a Northerner, Kelley was greeted with suspicion. However, he was a Freemason, an affiliation that overcame sectional differences. Kelley saw the need for an organization that would bring farmers together and advance their interests. After consultations with the other Founders, the Grange was born in 1867. The first Grange was Potomac Grange #1 in Washington, D.C., extant today.

Membership in the Grange increased dramatically from 1873 (200,000) to 1875 (858,050) as many of the state and local granges adopted non-partisan political resolutions, especially regarding the regulation of railroad transportation costs. The organization was unusual in that it allowed women and teens as equal members. In fact, four of the sixteen elected positions can only be held by women.

1967 U.S. postage stamp honoring the National Grange.


Rapid growth infused the national organization with money from dues, and many local granges established consumer cooperatives, initially supplied by the wholesaler Aaron Montgomery Ward. Poor fiscal management, combined with organizational difficulties resulting from rapid growth, led to a massive decline in membership. By the turn of the century, the Grange rebounded and membership stabilized.

In the middle of the 1870s, the Granger movement was successful in regulating the railroads and grain warehouses. The birth of the Cooperative Extension Service, Rural Free Delivery, and the Farm Credit System were largely due to Grange lobbying. The peak of their political power was marked by their success in Munn v. Illinois, which held that the grain warehouses were a "private utility in the public interest," and therefore could be regulated by public law (see references below, "The Granger Movement"). Other significant Grange causes included temperance, the direct election of Senators and women's suffrage (Susan B. Anthony's last public appearance was at the National Grange Convention in 1903 ). During the Progressive Era, political parties took up Grange causes. Consequently, local Granges focused more on community service, although the State and National Granges remain a political force.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the position of the Grange as a respected organization in the United States was indicated by a membership that included Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman, as well as artist Norman Rockwell and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. The monument to the founding of the Grange is the only private monument on the National Mallmarker in Washington, D.C.

The Grange today

Grange membership has declined considerably as the percentage of American farmers has fallen from a third of the population in the early 20th century to less than two percent today. In the last 15 years, the number of Grange members has dropped by 40%. Washingtonmarker has the largest membership of any state, at approximately 40,000.

Despite this drop in membership and national awareness, the Grange continues to press for the causes of farmers, including issues of free trade and farm policy. In its 2006 Journal of Proceedings, the organization's report of its annual convention, the organization lays out its mission and how it works towards achieving it through fellowship, service, and legislation:

"The Grange provides opportunities for individuals and families to develop to their highest potential in order to build stronger communities and states, as well as a stronger nation."

The Grange is nonpartisan, and only supports policies, never political parties or candidates. Although the Grange was originally founded to serve the interests of farmers, because of the shrinking farm population the Grange has begun to broaden its range to include a wide variety of issues, and anyone is welcome to join the Grange.

The Junior grange is open to children 5-14. Regular Grange membership is open to anyone age 14 or older. The Grange Youth is a group created within the Grange and consists of members 14-25.

Rituals and ceremonies

Grange in session, 1873
When the Grange first began in 1867, it borrowed some of its rituals and symbols from Freemasonry, including secret meetings, oaths and special passwords. Small, ceremonial farm tools are often displayed at Grange meetings. Elected officers are in charge of opening and closing each meeting. There are seven degrees of Grange membership; the ceremony of each degree relates to various symbols and principles.

During the last few decades, the Grange has moved towards public meetings and no longer meets in secret. Though the secret meetings do not occur, the Grange still acknowledges its rich history and practices some traditions.

Organization

The Grange is a hierarchical organization ranging from local communities to the National Grange organization. At the local level are community Granges, otherwise known as "subordinate Granges". All members are affiliated with at least one subordinate. In most states, multiple subordinate Granges are grouped together to form "Pomona Granges". Typically, Pomonas are made up of all the subordinates in a county. Next in the order come State Granges, which is where the Grange begins to be especially active in the political process. State Masters (Presidents) are responsible for supervising the administration of Subordinate and Pomona Granges. Together, thirty-six State Granges, as well as Potomac Grange #1 in Washington, D.C., form the National Grange. The National Grange represents the interests of all Grangers in lobbying activities similar to the state, but on a much larger scale. In addition, the National Grange oversees the Grange ritual. The Grange is a grassroots organization; virtually all policy originates at the subordinate level.

Further reading

  • Barnes, William D. "Oliver Hudson Kelley and the Genesis of the Grange: A Reappraisal," Agricultural History, Vol. 41, No. 3 (Jul., 1967), pp. 229-242 in JSTOR
  • Buck, Solon Justus. The Granger movement: A Study of Agricultural Organization and its Political, Economic, and Social Manifestations, 1870-1880‎ (1913) 384pp; full text online; excellent older history (newer is Nordin (1974)
  • Ferguson, James S. "The Grange and Farmer Education in Mississippi," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 8, No. 4 (Nov., 1942), pp. 497-512 in JSTOR
  • Gardner, Charles M. The Grange: Friend of the Farmer (1949) 531pp.
  • Hirsch, Arthur H. "Efforts of the Grange in the Middle West to Control the Price of Farm Machinery, 1870-1880," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Mar., 1929), pp. 473-496 in JSTOR
  • Howard, David H. People, Pride, and Progress: 125 Years of the Grange in America (1992) 335pp.
  • Lownsbrough, John. The Privileged Few. The Grange and its People in Nineteenth Century Ontario (1980)
  • Marti, Donald B. Women of the Grange: Mutuality and Sisterhood in Rural America, 1866-1920 (1991)
  • Nordin, D. Sven. Rich Harvest: A History of the Grange, 1867–1900 (1974), 273pp excerpt and text search
  • Saloutos, Theodore. "The Grange in the South, 1870-1877," Journal of Southern History, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Nov., 1953), pp. 473-487 in JSTOR
  • Schneiberg, Marc et al. "Social Movements and Organizational Form: Cooperative Alternatives to Corporations in the American Insurance, Dairy, and Grain Industries," American Sociological Review 2008 73(4): 635-667, theoretical essay
  • Schell, Herbert S. "The Grange and the Credit Problem in Dakota Territory," Agricultural History, Vol. 10, No. 2 (Apr., 1936), pp. 59-83 in JSTOR
  • Tontz, Robert L. "Memberships of General Farmers' Organizations, United States, 1874-1960," Agricultural History, Vol. 38, No. 3 (Jul., 1964), pp. 143-156 in JSTOR statistical tables showing membership in the Grange and other farm organizations by date and state and region
  • Woods, Thomas A. Knights of the Plow: Oliver H. Kelley and the Origins of the Grange in Republican Ideology (2002)

Primary sources

  • Atkeson, Thomas Clark. Semi-centennial history of the Patrons of husbandry (1916) 364pp full text online
  • Goss, Albert S. "Legislative Program of the National Grange," Journal of Farm Economics, Vol. 29, No. 1, Proceedings Number (Feb., 1947), pp. 52-63 by Grange leader
  • Kelley, Oliver Hudson. Origin and progress of the order of the Patrons of Husbandry in the United States (1875) 441pp full text online
  • full texts of primary sources on Grange


Notes



References



External links




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