Order of the Patrons of Husbandry— The Grange
Author: Dorothy W. Hartman Farmer and Activist—Founder Oliver Hudson Kelley
The Order of the Patrons of Husbandry, more generally known as the Grange, began as an idea in the mind of Oliver Hudson Kelley, a Bostonian by birth who, at twenty-one, left New England and set out for the West. Working first as a newspaper reporter in Chicago, then as a telegrapher in Burlington, Iowa, Kelley and his new bride set out for St. Paul, Minnesota Territory in 1849. He became involved in the new territorial government, and on speculation that the capital was to be moved from St. Paul to Itasca, he purchased land there. The motion to move the capital failed, and Kelley was left to farm his acreage two miles outside of Itasca. Tragedy struck shortly after when his wife died in childbirth and his daughter died six months later. About a year later, Kelley married Temperance Lane, a teacher who, like Kelley, had migrated from Boston.
Kelley had no training in farming, and took to the profession by ‘book learning,’ A believer in the nineteenth-century canon of technology, education, industry and organization, Kelley became an innovator in new agricultural techniques, learning from experimentation, discussion with other farmers and reading agricultural books and journals. In his enthusiasm, he purchased new equipment as soon as it hit the market, and promoted and sold new varieties of seed and nursery stock.
Kelley began his long career of organizing like-minded people by forming the Benton County Agricultural Society in 1852, the first agricultural organization in Minnesota Territory. Kelley was anxious to learn more about his chosen profession and to have an impact on his fellow farmers. He was convinced that technology coupled with broad knowledge about agriculture could transform farming from an occupation of drudgery and low cultural esteem to one of profit and dignity.
Kelley had entered agriculture when it was poised for change. In the late 1850s and early 1860s, most farmers still produced for subsistence with a small, locally traded market surplus. As an example, in 1859, the total production of corn, potatoes, oats and wheat was fairly even in Minnesota. The first shipment of grain and flour left the state for market that year. Still, only 16% of the wheat grown that year was exported, 7.5% of the oats, 4.9% of the potatoes and 1.4% of the corn.
Not all Minnesota farmers were satisfied with producing only for local markets. These forward thinkers were waiting for the demand and a commercial infrastructure to develop. These were the innovators, and Kelley shared their vision, even if he lacked the capital on his own farm. However, his own crops and those of his fellow farmers were struck by a series of natural disasters in the mid-to late 1850s, devastating Kelley’s mixed grain/livestock operations. He turned to fruit and vegetable market gardening the same year the train tracks passed his farm in 1864. Still, the effort was not to bring Kelley the financial benefits he sought, mostly because of overriding debt of a failed real estate venture to establish a new town across the river from his farm.
Even though he believed that all wealth was derived from working the land, his own failed history with farming illustrates his dissatisfaction with agricultural prospects. He was convinced that some agricultural agency needed to study the problem and offer solutions. Unfortunately for Kelley, the combination of debts, poor soil and bad luck finally overwhelmed him financially. Still, he clung to the idea that farming could be profitable and sought to solve farmers’ problems through combined effort in agricultural organizations that educated, elevated and protected farmers from the self-seeking capitalists and middlemen.
Through all of his difficulties, Kelley remained an innovator. He planted and kept careful statistics on new seeds sent to him by the U.S. patent office and encouraged other farmers to do the same. His meticulous record keeping and constant barrage of articles about agriculture printed in local newspapers garnered him an appointment as a clerk to the new U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1864. He kept the farm, and lived in Washington in the winters, leaving his wife and four daughters in Minnesota.
At around the same time, a storm was brewing in Minnesota over transportation. The cost of shipping agricultural products on railroads, becoming more and more monopolistic, was beginning to undermine any profits farmers could make. By the 1860s, Minnesota had begun to ship large quantities of wheat and other produce out of state, and the shippers’ monopolies and middlemen costs were interfering in what Kelley (and others) thought was a fair return for farmers’ work. At about the same time, the Department of Agriculture sent Kelley on a trip through the post-Civil War South to assess the state of agriculture there. As a northerner sent to assess the South, he was afraid he would be met with disinterest or downright hostility, but his membership in the Masons opened doors that would otherwise have been shut in his face. The results of this trip and the rising discontent of farmers over transportation cemented Kelley’s idea to form a nationwide "Secret Society of Agriculturalist," the beginning of the Grange.
The Grange Takes Shape
Kelley returned to Washington in the winters of 1866 and 1867 as a reporter for the St. Paul Pioneer and to an appointed position as a clerk in the Post Office Department. While at the Post Office, he discussed his idea for a national, secret farmers’ organization with William Ireland, a co-worker. During a trip to Chicago a while later, he renewed his brief acquaintance with William Saunders, a horticulturist for the Department of Agriculture. On November 15, 1867, these three organizers and a few other interested parties from around Washington, D.C. held their first official meeting. Saunders had written the preamble to the constitution and Kelley had outlined the "Outline of Plan of Organization." In April, 1868, Kelley headed out on a trip to begin organizing individual granges. His first attempt, in Fredonia, New York, was a success, but the rest of the trip proved to be a failure and no other granges were organized.
Once back home in Minnesota, he used his connections with the press to present his case, with the Sauk Rapids Sentinel as his primary promotional vehicle. On home turf again, Kelley became more confident in proclaiming the goals of the organization, including protection for farmers against monopoly capitalism, something with which his co-organizers disagreed. They held the more conservative view that the organization should serve the educational and social needs of the farming community, and not be a proponent of protectionism against capitalists and middlemen. Farmers’ discontent with the rising price of getting their produce to market, the high cost of credit and economically troublesome tariff issues ultimately overrode this conservatism as the organization grew out of infancy, but ideological struggles such as this one played out in the early years as the organization responded to farmer’s needs and protests.
Structure and Membership
From the start, Kelley and the others envisioned the organization as a secret society, with passwords, secret signals and other covert means of identification. Membership was supposed to be open to farmers and their families, although at one point, lawyers, businessmen and politicians joined the ranks seeking favoritism. Consequently, granges were organized in urban as well as rural areas. These ‘interlopers’ were stricken from the ranks at some point.
From the earliest, the Grange admitted women equally into its ranks. Caroline Hall, Kelley’s niece, is often credited for bringing women into initial organization of the Grange with her words, written to Kelley in early correspondence, "Your organization will never be permanent if you leave the women out!" In early discussions on the topic, the founders believed that women should be equal ‘helpmeets’ to their husbands as primary educators and keepers of the moral tone of the family, that women should be educated in order to achieve these goals. These views of women’s roles as educators and moral stewardesses conformed, for the most part, to those held by the society in general. The organization’s view of women and their roles, however, has been disputed. While most writings on the organization note its support of woman suffrage, one author (Woods: 172) noted that the organization was not a leader in promoting that cause. However, a resolution passed at the 1885 national session clearly supports woman suffrage by stating:
"Resolved, that one of the fundamental principles of the Patrons of Husbandry, as set forth in its official Declaration of Purposes, regulating membership, recognizes the equality of the two sexes. We are therefore prepared to hail with delight any advancement in the legal status of women, which may give to her the full right of the ballot-box, and an equal condition of citizenship."
From the start of the organization, woman had equal voting rights within the Grange. The Grange also admitted youth into their ranks, believing that at some time or another, youngsters living on a farm would become disillusioned with the life and attempt to seek work elsewhere. At the 1880 national meeting, the age limit for admission was set at 14 years, reduced from the original 18 years for boys and 16 years for girls. By including them in the organization, the leadership stated, the noble nature of farm labor would be instilled and encouraged.
The Patrons was a highly hierarchical and ritualistic organization. Grange hierarchy started at the lowest level with the "Subordinate," or local grange, the grassroots of the organization. For a while, the next level of organization was the state grange. Soon, though, an intermediate level, the " Pomona Grange, " was formed at the regional level, closely comparable to county boundaries. The National Grange sat atop the hierarchy.
Ritualism was one of the hallmarks of the organization. Kelley, himself a Mason, felt that ritual bound members together, so he proposed a ceremony of initiation and advancement for members. Kelley believed that many of the hardships endured by farmers came from their own ignorance, and through lectures and other educational tools, the country’s farmers could raise themselves. Consequently, his hierarchy of degrees of membership entailed lectures and courses of study that he believed could be comparable to agricultural colleges. Rituals, the founders believed, became rites of passage through which all members passed to emerge on the other side as enlightened and cooperative farmers, ready for modern society. Grange ritual was designed to encourage members’ pride in agricultural labor and in private and public virtue through a kind of civil religion. This ritual borrowed heavily from Greek and Roman mythology and Christianity and taught by the use of symbols and emblems, all agricultural in nature.
The arrangement of the grange hall was closely related to ritual and symbolism. The term "grange" was derived from the plan of an English estate. Grange officers were known by names associated with these baronial estates, and their places within the room were based on this ritual. The Gate Keeper stood at the door and monitored the entrance of members and candidates. Other officers took the titles of Master, Overseer, Lecturer, Steward, Assistant Steward, Lady Assistant Steward and Chaplain. Additionally, there were three women officers whose names were derived from Roman mythology, namely Ceres, the goddess representing grain and the growers of grain, Pomona, the goddess presiding over fruits, and Flora, the goddess of flowers and Spring. A Bible, laid open, was located on pedestal in a prominent place in the room. Each meeting started with an invocation and ended with a benediction. Quotes from the Bible were incorporated into meetings to underscore the teachings of each degree.
There were seven degrees within the Grange. The first four degrees were open to subordinate grange members. The fifth degree was originally intended to be accessible only to past subordinate grange masters who became members of the state grange, but in later years it became the province of the Pomona Grange to confer this degree. The sixth degree was intended only for state grange masters and the seventh degree, the climax degree, was conferred at the Annual Meeting of the National Grange by the High Priest of Demeter, who is also the custodian the signs and responsible for the annual password. All Grangers who have received the seventh degree and remain members of a subordinate grange become members of the Assembly of Demeter. The symbolism associated with each degree was related to agricultural tools.
In the 1860s and 1870s, the first four degrees were conferred in different forms for men and women. By the 1880s, some of the degrees had combined men and women into one induction ceremony. What follows is a short description of each.
The first male degree was entitled laborer. Candidates who successfully completed this degree were taught that progress and improvement would be difficult and required perseverance. They also learned that agriculture was the noblest occupation on earth. Lectures in this degree posited two divergent paths: labor and learning was the hard path, but led to progress and improvement; laziness and ignorance was the easy path, but led to stagnation and superstition. Symbolic tools included the ax, plow, harrow and spade. These were tools used to prepare the ground for planting, just as candidates for this degree were preparing their minds for planting the seeds of learning and improvement.
The first degree for women was the maid. Candidates for this degree were taught that women were the "helpmeet, companion and equal of man." Women were encouraged to be self-sacrificing, charitable and forgiving. The emphasis was on their roles as educators and models for children. They were taught that true beauty and strength lay in their Christian beliefs. The symbol was a bunch of grass, basis of all agriculture and the idea that great things come from humble beginnings.
The second degree conferred the title of cultivator on men. This degree reemphasized the concept that the farmer’s life was closest to nature and thus, closest to God. Candidates were symbolically taught how to plant the seed now that they had prepared the ground in the first degree. Ceres, Pomona and Flores play a role in this degree, instructing candidates about the refined rewards of growing fruits and flowers and about the wonder of transforming seed into fruit. The tools associated with this degree are the hoe and the pruning knife, meant to remind candidates to cut away ragged growth, whether in the fields or in their own minds. The pruning knife also symbolizes restraint and reminded men to keep their passions under control.
The second degree for woman was the shepherdess. Candidates were reminded that the life of shepherdess was one of simplicity and that the lamb was the emblem of "purity and innocence." They were instructed from the Manual of the National Grange, that, "it is in this light we, in this fraternity, desire to look upon women, and in our teachings we aim to inculcate all those virtues which will make her noble and beloved."
Candidates of the third degree for harvester and gleaner were taught the lesson of charity. They learned to share with others the bounty of their harvest and not to covet the possessions of others. Grange officers told male candidates that all honest labor was honorable and that nature was the best teacher. Women were taught to forgive, to be trustful and to choose associations carefully, and to be lenient with others’ faults.
Successful candidates for the fourth degree became husbandmen and matrons. The emblem for this degree was the agate, symbolizing fidelity. Candidates for this degree were taught to enjoy the fruits of knowledge in their own homes and to appreciate and assist children. Men were taught to protect children and to make their homes attractive and cheerful to encourage children to remain farmers. Women were reminded that the education of children fell to them.
In designing the degrees, the founders also related each degree to a virtue and to a season, as listed below.
First Degree—Faith Spring Laborer Maid
Second Degree— Hope Summer Cultivator Shepherdess
Third Degree—Charity Autumn Harvester Gleaner
Fourth Degree— Fidelity Winter Husbandman Matron
Members who reached leadership positions could progress to the fifth, sixth and seventh degrees, which was the final degree and intended to be an interpretation of all grange ritualism. It was not conferred until 1884, when there were eight candidates. By 1886, at the national convention in Philadelphia, thirty three candidates were initiated into the seventh degree.
Ritualism included the obligatory wearing of regalia at all regular grange meetings. Sashes were worn by officers and badges by members. The first sashes were brown trimmed with red braid. Another feature of ritualism was the use of secret passwords, hand grips and signals. The signs and grips were designed to identify members and certain signs were designed to warn one another about fraudulent offers or to call for help. All of these signs of fraternity opened doors and brought offers of hospitality nationwide to any member.
Song was a regular feature of meetings. Two popular ones were:
"The Plow, the Spade and the Hoe," sung to the tune of "Columbia:"
The Farmer’s the chief of the nation,
The oldest of nobles is he,
How blest beyond the others his station,
From want and from envy how free,
His patent was granted in Eden,
Long ages and ages ago,
Oh the farmer, the farmer forever, Three cheers for the plow, spade and hoe!"
"Rally Round the Grange," sung to the tune of "Rally Round the Flag:"
We will rally round the Grange,
We will rally once again,
Shouting the Farmer’s cry of Freedom,
We will rally to the Grange,
Our rights to maintain,
Shouting the Farmer’s cry of Freedom, The Patrons forever, hurrah, then hurrah!
Down with th’ oppressor, up with our star,
We will rally to the Grange,
Our rights to maintain,
Shouting the Farmer’s cry of Freedom.
Grange Membership Grows, then Declines
Political and economic events of the early 1870s set the stage for an enormous growth in grange membership. The depression of 1873 affected agriculture just as it had effected the rest of the country’s economy. Prices for farm products fell and remained low, shipping costs skyrocketed, interest rates on loans and mortgages increased, tariff regulations forced farmers to buy high and sell low. Generally they felt they were losing their voice (and way of life) to the industrial urban centers in the country. These threats to farming life brought hundreds of thousands to grange membership. By 1875, national membership had passed 850,000. Indiana ranked second behind Missouri in Grange membership in Mid-Central region of the US that year, with 60,298 members and 1,485 Granges, 498 for every 100,000 in agricultural population.
As the economy later improved, membership in the Grange fell. By the early 1880s, the numbers for national membership had fallen to around 150,000. National grange membership was 117,620 in 1885 and 109,526 in 1886. Many of the ventures tried by the organization - cooperative buying, ownership of grain elevators, banks and manufacturing facilities - had failed, and the organization became more of a social institution than one with a political and economic agenda.
Social, Economic and Political Activity
The founders of the Grange had a variety of goals in mind for the organization. First, they envisioned the organization as a way to break the isolation of farm life. The founders showed special concern for farm women, perhaps because of the influence of Caroline Hall. Popular literature of the time, especially woman’s farm magazines, noted the large numbers of farm women who suffered from mental distress and illness. The founders believed that the picnics, celebrations and meetings which brought farm families together would help alleviate the isolation of living on farms at a distance from one another. Closely tied to socializing was the idea of education, through both sharing of knowledge and through lectures. These activities also served to bond members to the organization.
The Grange also sought some economic relief for members. Falling prices and rising costs had taken their toll on farm profit, with transportation costs and middleman profits the primary targets of the farmers’ anger. Railroad trusts controlled the cost of shipping, keeping prices artificially low on trunk lines and raising them on the short feeder lines that reached into the farming hinterland. At times, it was cheaper for farmers to burn corn as fuel than ship it to markets in the east. The Grange, though claiming not to be aligned to any political party, fought for regulation of railroad routes and the opening and expansion of water routes to markets. They also sought regulation of grain elevators and other middleman operations, claiming that those profits were not derived from labor and thus took financial reward away from the farmer. Finally, they sought relief from the banking industry, which loaned money at what farmers thought were exorbitant rates. The sheer number of members in the 1870s drew the attention of legislators in many of the Mid-western states and a series of "Granger Laws" were placed on the books in these states. The laws regulated intra-state railroad rates and the operation of grain elevators. Contrary to the government’s general laissez-faire policy regarding business, Grangers pushed for these laws for the "good of the general public."
Eventually, most of these laws were overturned due to pressure from industry and railroad interests. Still, Grange histories often credit the passage of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 to the political action of Grange members beginning in the 1870s.
Another feature of Grange activity in the 1870s was the establishment of cooperative stores, grain elevators, banks and farm equipment manufactories operated by and for the benefit of Grange members. Stores purchased stock in bulk and passed the savings on to members, selling to non-members at higher prices. Grange banks attempted to loan money at rates lower than other commercial banks. Cooperatively owned grain elevators made it possible for Grange members to store and ship corn, wheat and other grains at reduced costs. Finally, machinery manufacture cut the cost of purchasing farm machinery since Grange members could purchase directly from the manufacturer. Unfortunately, these enterprises failed, on most accounts due to lack of capital and business know-how. These failures also added to the deflection in membership in the ensuing decade.
The Grange in the 1880s
By the end of the 1870s, it was evident that the Grange was seriously losing ground, both in membership and in political clout. The unsuccessful ventures into retailing, business and banking forced the Grange to re-evaluate its role, and the National Master in 1879, Jonathan J. Woodman, decided to redirect the focus back to education. His national efforts were impeded by a serious lack of funds, in stark contrast to the largesse of only a few years earlier. Only 17 new granges had been formed in 1879 and only 44 in 1880. Woodman pushed for state masters to rebuild local interest on the agenda of education, fraternity and legislative action directed at farmer-friendly laws. Apparently, the refocusing of direction included a resolve to forget the mistakes of the past and move on.
One of the challenges to Grange membership about this time was the formation of other farmer’s groups, primarily in the South and Midwest. The National Farmer’s Alliance, the largest of these, was more vocal on political issues and took radical stands on issues relating to farming. Consequently, the Alliance gained some of the disillusioned members lost by the Grangers. Although Grangers were encouraged to express their political views in public clearly and fully, during Grange meetings political discussion was discouraged, and at this particular time, with other radical farm groups springing up, it became almost impossible to leave politics at the door. Rifts in membership ensued as the more radical element left the Grange to join the Alliance, primarily in the southern states.
Woodman continued to stress the educational nature of the Grange in an effort to retain and regain membership. At the national meeting held in Indianapolis in 1882, he stressed the necessity of farmers adopting scientific methods in tilling the soil, a return to the guiding principles which shaped the formation of the Grange which were formalized in the St. Louis declaration of 1874. "There is not a science known to the literary world that cannot be practically used by the tiller of the soil, " he stated in his annual address, "and the more of science that is brought to the aid of agriculture, the lighter its burdens and the more pleasant and elevating its pursuits." It was a clear restatement of the nineteenth-century beliefs in progress, science and technology. Woodman instituted inspections of subordinate granges and placed more emphasis on lecture hour in grange meetings.
Elected for a third term as National Master, Woodman continued to emphasize the non-partisan nature of the Grange, stating in his annual address in 1884, " ...the Order has held its course steadily onward, battling for the right, and for men and principles rather than party." A year later, still maintaining a non-partisan position, the Order formed a legislative committee, whose purpose was to secure national legislation in favor of agriculture. Although Grange leaders had been lobbying in Washington for several years, it was the first time a formal committee was established to push for a farmer’s agenda. Still, over the course of Woodman’s six years as Master, only 492 new granges were formed, a fraction of the number formed in only a year in the mid-1870s.
Leadership changed in 1885 with the election of a Southerner, Israel Putnam Darden, to the position of National Master. Regardless of the redirection toward education, it became evident that there remained a political agenda to be addressed. At his first annual address in 1886, clearly referring to the decline in membership during the preceding years, Darden stated , " The Grange, National, State or Subordinate, is not a political or party organization." But, he continued, " A national farmers’ organization without the power to discuss the political rights of its members would be a farce beneath the dignity of intelligent men. The farmers want an organization that will use its influence upon the legislatures, state and national, to protect their interests, just as other class organizations protect the rights of their members; and no organization can long maintain a standing with them if it does not render such assistance." He followed this statement with a challenge, "let us try the remedy that has been suggested at nearly every session of the National Grange; let us, with our ballots, send men to the legislatures, state and national, who will equalize and reduce taxation; restrain corporations from oppressing people; have the finances managed in the interest of the people; keep our public domain for actual settlers; prevent gamblers from pricing our productions, and extend the same protection to the farmer and to the manufacturer. For this great work the Grange was organized, and it was not born to die, nor will it fail in the accomplishment of its purposes."
Apparently, Grange leadership realized that, with other farmers’ organizations playing an active role in politics, they had to support a political agenda if they were to keep members and attract new ones. Still, national membership remained below 135,000 until the end of the decade and topped 200,000 only once in the remaining years of the century, in 1893, another recession year.
The Grange arose during a period of intense change in the country and for farmers. The nation was trying to piece itself back together following the Civil War. Industrialism was sweeping the country. The money supply was in flux following years of war. Railroads were changing the face of transportation, linking previously isolated areas to urban centers. Thousands of immigrants were arriving to populate the burgeoning cities and frontiers of the West. Technology and science revolutionized how the country produced goods. Financial and industrial giants changed how the country did business. The agricultural way of life, a vision that had defined this country for decades, was quickly giving way to an urban, industrial vision and the idea of progress as defined by technology. The Grange offered identity, a place to vent fears and frustrations, and a unified voice against perceived threats to a difficult, but cherished, way of life.
Grange philosophy incorporated the conservative ideals of God, family and country. Membership offered a chance to socialize - a big draw for many families - exchange information, learn new techniques and, at least in the early years, attempt to overcome some of the barriers to economic improvement. Early on, by sheer numbers alone, politicians were forced to listen, but the resulting legislation regulating railroads and middlemen was short-lived. When attempts a cooperation in purchasing and marketing produce failed, the Grange was left with an educational, social and quasi-political function that met the needs of only a fraction of the numbers of members attracted in the mid-1870s.
Facts and Figures
National Grange membership:
National Grange officers from Indiana:
Oscar Dinwiddie, Gate Keeper, Jan. 1873 to Nov. 1881
Henley James, Executive Committee, Nov. 1876 to Nov. 1882 and Chairman, Nov. 1879 to Nov. 1882
Indiana State Grange Masters:
John Weir, 1872-1874
Henley James, 1874-1880
Aaron Jones, 1880-1885
Milton Tursler, 1885-1892
Buck, Solon Justus. The Grange Movement; A Study of Agricultural Organization and its Political, Economic and Social Manifestations, 1870-1880.Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, reprint 1963, c. 1913.
Carsten, Vernon. Farmer Discontent 1865-1900. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1974.
Curl, John. History of Work Cooperation in America. Berkeley, Homeward Press, 1980.
Gardner, Charles M. The Grange, Friend to the Farmer, 1867-1947. Washington, D.C.: The National Grange, 1949.
Kelley, Oliver H. Origin and Progress of The Order of the Patrons of Husbandry in the United States; A History from 1866 to 1873. Philadelphia: J. A. Wagenseller, 1875.
Manual of the Subordinate Granges of the Patrons of Husbandry, Adopted and Issued by the National Grange. Philadelphia: J. A. Wagenseller, 1874.
Martin, Edward W. History of the Grange Movement or, the Farmers’ War Against Monopolies. Philadelphia: National Publishing Company, 1873.
Nordin, Dennis Sven. Rich Harvest: A History of the Grange, 1867-1900. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1974.
Robinson, W. L. The Grange 1867-1967. Washington, D. C.: The National Grange, 1966.
Woods, Thomas A. Knights of the Plow: Oliver H. Kelley and the Origins of the Grange in Republican Ideology. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1991.