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Grange History

National Grange History

Step Back in Time

Imagine yourself in rural America, during Reconstruction after the Civil War. We are an agricultural society; there are some large and small cities, but many more small towns, and still more isolated homesteads all across the countryside. Transportation is by horse and wagon, by riverboat, and just recently, by transcontinental railroad. It is the age of steam power in the Transportation industry, but it is still the age of horse power for Agriculture. Most people are farmers, and almost all farms are small and family-operated. The work is never finished.

The Walter A. Wood Two-Horse Mower, 1877

The challenges of rural America are many; buying of supplies, tools and equipment, transportation of farm produce to market, rural education, social recreation. There are no Farmers' Cooperatives or local grain elevators; the farmer has no bargaining power. Public education is not widespread, nor are libraries. The list of needs is long and the the items are all significant. By the 1870's, the railroads have a near monopoly in long distance transportation, and there aren't yet so many of them that competition would be a factor.

From most rural Americans' perspectives, the railroads have a stranglehold on the American economy, and especially on American Agriculture.

How the Railroads came to be so powerful in the first place is one of the subjects of an 1874 book entitled "History of the Grange Movement; or, The Farmer's War Against Monopolies," by Edward Winslow Martin. This book is now in the public domain and can be viewed online. You may access a copy by going to our Grange Library page. This book is also instructive for its use of 1870 Federal Census figures in giving the reader a glimpse of America and Americans in the early 1870's.

To read this book, one might get the impression that the exorbitant freight rates of the Railroads were the only challenge the American Farmer faced. To the contrary, there were several pressing issues; also included were efficiency of farming operations, education for their children, transportation over poor roads, and social and cultural isolation in rural settings. Point in fact regarding the efficiency of farming operations, the illustration above is of a two-horse mower, taken from an original 1878 catalog of progressive farm machinery. This catalog may be viewed in its entirety; we have a copy of it on our Grange Library page.

Fast Facts

Official Name: Order of the Patrons of Husbandry.

Local branches were originally called Granges; today, all levels of the Order are referred to as The Grange.

Original idea of O. H. Kelley, a Minnesota farmer.

First official meeting:
December 4, 1867.

First elected Officers:
William Saunders, Master;
Anson Bartlett, Overseer;
O. H. Kelley, Secretary;
John R. Thompson, Lecturer;
A. B. Grosh, Chaplain;
W. M. Ireland, Treasurer;
Edward P. Farris, Gate-Keeper;
William Muir, Steward:
A. Sherwood Moss, Assistant Steward.

O. H. Kelley

By this time, History is already in the making. In January of 1866, Oliver Hudson Kelley, a Boston-born, Minnesota farmer almost bankrupted by local drought and his own inexperience, has gone to Washington at the urging of a friend, where he secures an appointment in the Department of Agriculture. His commission is to travel throughout the Southern States, gathering agricultural statistics, which have become very difficult to come by in the aftermath of the Great Rebellion.

His travels there, the people he meets and the universal plight of farmers wherever he goes, prompts him to think of ways to improve the famers' lot. He devotes all his spare time to improvising a Farmers' Society, which he envisions as being able to confront many of the farmers' challenges. His correspondence with friends in Washington and elsewhere eventually lead to the formation of the Patrons of Husbandry in 1866, with the permanent (official) organization taking place in January of 1873. The Seven Founders of the Order were: Wm. Saunders, F.M. McDowell, John Trimble, O.H. Kelley, A.B. Grosh, J.R. Thompson, and W.M. Ireland.

He wrote a book of the process in 1875, entitled "Origin and Progress of the Order of The Patrons of Husbandry in the United States, from 1866 to 1873." This book is also in the public domain; you can view it from our Grange Library page.

O. H. Kelley and the majority of the other founders of the Patrons of Husbandry were also members of the Masons; accordingly, The Order of Patrons of Husbandry was founded as a Fraternal, Secret Society. The secrecy, the rituals, the symbolic names of offices and levels of degrees, the regalia, the lecturer's programs, everything taken together was seen as a means of elevating the farmers from their down-trodden position in the American economy and their culturally bleak niche in society.

Reading this book, one can see the sincerity of Kelley's motivations, and those of his friends as well. All of the others had their own lives to live and careers to pursue; Kelley eventually put everything else aside to travel the countryside and stump for the organization of local Granges all across America.

Early Progress

In January of 1868, the National Grange met and formed the first local Grange, Potomac Grange #1. Much practice of ritual and form ensued, and Potomac Grange #1 became a training ground for the organization of local Granges elsewhere. O.H. Kelley was commissioned to travel across the country, expressly to facilitate the formation of local Granges. Organizing local Granges was slow going at first; a lesser man would have become discouraged to the point of giving up. Suffice it to say that the early days were not fruitful, and that the ordeal taxed the resources and energy of all involved. After several months' travel, Kelley finally arrived at his farm in Minnesota, his money gone, and with only one local Grange to show for all his efforts.

More trips were undertaken, and eventually, the tide began to turn. By the end of 1872, 1105 Local Granges had been organized. Through 1875, the Order enjoyed a period of increasing success in organizing local Granges across the country. State Granges were set up in 22 states in 1873, 4 more in 1874, and 2 more in 1875. At times, their success astounded the leaders; in December of 1873, 1235 new local Granges were organized. 1874 saw 11,941 new Granges formed. In viewing these remarkable results, one should keep in mind that this occurs during, and in the aftermath of, the Financial Panic of 1873. Dire economic conditions across all America did indeed fan the flames of discontent amongst American farmers, and membership in the ranks of the Grange swelled accordingly.

Not surprisingly, this period of success was followed by periods of trials and tribulations. For more information, one can read "The Grange - Friend of the Farmer, 1867-1947," by Charles M. Gardner. This book is not yet available online; you may find a copy in your local Library.

Grange Accomplishments

What has the Grange done for the American Farmer? The short answer is: more than we realize, and for more than just the Farmers of America, at that. The above-mentioned book by Charles M. Gardner has a section devoted to "The Grange in Legislation." I have reproduced this portion of the Table of Contents below.


 Section B

 Introduction   93
 Department of Agriculture 102
 Better Highways 107
 Rural Mail Delivery 111
 Parcel Post 116
 Farm Credit 117
 Rural Electrification 122
 Land Grant Colleges 127
 Experiment Stations 130
 Farm Research 131
 Extension Service and Vocational Agriculture 134
 Conservation and Forestry 137
 Regulation of Public Utilities 141
 Freight Rates 142
 Overproduction 144
 Balancing the Budget 146
 Inflation 147
 Corporation Farming and Banking Centralization 150
 Tenant Farmers 152
 Rural Health 154
 Pure Food and Drugs 156
 Liquors - Narcotics - Cigarets 157
 Truth-in-Fabrics Law 160
 Livestock Improvement and Protection 161
 State Police and Fire Protection 162
 The Free Seed Farce 163
 Social Security 165
 The Grange and Organized Labor 167
 Taxation 170
 Grange Tariff Policy 173
 Direct Election of U. S. Senators 174
 Other Helpful Accomplishments 175
 Canadian Reciprocity 178
 Packing the Supreme Court 181
 Two Significant Pronouncements 185
 A Continuing Program 188

There isn't sufficient space here to elaborate on each of the topics included. We think it fair to say that The Grange has been actively involved in the legislative process leading to many aspects of daily life we now take for granted. There are even more topics than this, for not everything took an Act of Congress to accomplish, even though it may have seemed to be so at the time. Local Lending Libraries are a good example of this. Even though The Grange was not the only driving force behind Libraries, the Grange was in many instances very instrumental in bringing them to the smaller rural communities.

The Grange of today continues to identify the needs of local communities, and to speak up and take the initiative in addressing them.