A Brief History of the Grange (Part 1)
The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, to give the full title, is the oldest American agricultural association. Founded in 1867, the Grange has advocated for the rights of farmers across the USA in Washington whilst encouraging community bonding and rural values in their hometowns. This short history aims to fill in all the important events that have helped shape this important organization since it began over 150 years ago.
1864: This was the year that Oliver Kelley embarked on his great fact-finding journey around the Southern USA, as commissioned by the US Department of Agriculture. Whilst on his travels, he saw the poor state of many farming practices in more isolate countryside communities. This made Oliver realise the need for a communal organization that could fight for the rights and interests of rural and farm workers. Taking inspiration from the freemasons he had also met along his trip; Kelley envisioned a fraternal group that could transcend state and local differences to be a truly nationwide community.
1867: The Grange was founded on December 4th of this year, with the following seven initial members:
- Oliver Hudson Kelley
- William Saunders
- Francis M. McDowell
- John Trimble
- Aaron B. Grosh
- John R. Thompson
- William M. Ireland
- Caroline Hall
1868: The first official Grange Hall, named Grange #1, was duly opened in Fredonia, New York. The original building still stands on the town’s main street today. Unfortunately, there are no records surviving of how many members the Fredonia hall had at this time.
1874: This year marked the finished publication of the Declaration of Purposes of the National Grange, which would become a core text for the movement. In it was outlined the fraternal culture, that Kelley was certain would overcome the regional divides he felt plagued the USA at the time. Amongst many other things, the declaration said:
“Our work is for the present and the future. In our agricultural brotherhood and its purposes, we shall recognize no North, no South, no East, no West.”
This year is also the first year of which have surviving records for the number of members. 1874’s log puts the full fee-paying Grange membership at 268,368 people. Not bad for an organisation that had only started seven years prior.
1875: The middle year of the 1870s decade saw the massive interest in the Grange continue to grow at a rapid pace. By the end of the year, they had over 800,000 members all over the nation. The financial panic of 1873 certainly contributed to this. Although there is some historical suggestion that many new members were only interested in making a quick buck on discount pricing for members – or even worried railway and big business owners trying to sabotage the movement within.
1878: By this time Grange membership was falling off rapidly, and many remaining members felt that the community was getting too bogged down in political action against the railroad companies in particular. By the end of this year, membership would fall back down to less than 200,000 and a crisis in the leadership would lead founding member Oliver Hudson Kelley to resign.
A new chapter opens in the Grange’s history, to be explored in Part 2.