On December 4, 1867, former Minnesota farmer Oliver Hudson Kelley founded the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry — better known today as the Grange — a fraternal organization in the United States that encourages families to band together to promote the economic and political well-being of the community and agriculture. The Grange, founded after the Civil War, is the oldest American agricultural advocacy group with a national scope. Major accomplishments credited to Grange advocacy include passage of the Granger Laws and the establishment of rural free mail delivery.
President Andrew Johnson had commissioned Oliver Kelley to go to the Southern states and to collect data to improve Southern agricultural conditions. In the South, poor farmers bore the brunt of the Civil War and were suspicious of Northerners like Kelley. Kelley found he was able to overcome these sectional differences as a Mason. With Southern Masons as guides, he toured the war-torn countryside in the South and was appalled by the outdated farming practices. He saw the need for an organization that would bring people from the North and South together in a spirit of mutual cooperation and, after many letters and consultations with the other founders, the Grange was born. The first Grange was Grange #1, founded in 1868 in Fredonia, New York. Seven men and one woman co-founded the Grange: Oliver Hudson Kelley, William Saunders, Francis M. McDowell, John Trimble, Aaron B. Grosh, John R. Thompson, William M. Ireland, and Caroline Hall.
When the Grange first began, it borrowed some of its rituals and symbols from Freemasonry, including secret meetings, oaths and special passwords. It also copied ideas from Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible. 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 the seasons and various symbols and principles.
Paid agents organized local Granges and membership in the Grange increased dramatically from 1873 (200,000) to 1875 (858,050). Many of the state and local granges adopted non-partisan political resolutions, especially regarding the regulation of railroad transportation costs. The organization was unusual at this time because women and any teen old enough to draw a plow were encouraged to participate. The importance of women was reinforced by requiring that four of the elected positions could be held only by women.
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 twentieth century, the Grange rebounded and membership stabilized.
The Granger movement succeeded in regulating the railroads and grain warehouses. The births of the Cooperative Extension Service, Rural Free Delivery, and the Farm Credit System were due largely to Grange lobbying. The peak of their political power was marked by their success in Munn v. Illinois (1877), which held that grain warehouses were a “private utility in the public interest,” and so could be regulated by public law. However this achievement was overturned later by the Supreme Court in Wabash v. Illinois (1886).
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 of the 1890s to the 1920s, political parties took up Grange causes. As a consequence, local Granges focused more on community service, although the State and National Granges remain a political force.
In the twentieth and twenty-first 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, artist Norman Rockwell, businessman Frederick Hinde Zimmerman, and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. The monument to the founding of the Grange is the only private monument on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Grange membership has declined considerably as the percentage of American farmers has fallen from a third of the population in the early twentieth century to less than two percent today. Between 1992 and 2007, the number of Grange members fell by 40%. Washington has the largest membership of any state, at approximately 13,000.
During the last few decades, the Grange has moved toward 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. It’s 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, Pomona Granges 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-five State Granges, as well as Potomac Grange #1 in Washington, D.C., form the National Grange.
The National Grange represents the interests of most 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.
The motto of the Grange is In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas (“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity”). Indeed, the word “grange” 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 160,000, with organizations in 2,100 communities in 36 states. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C., in a building built by the organization in 1960. Many rural communities in the United States still have a Grange Hall and local Granges still serve as a center of rural life for many farming communities.
Scott #1323 was first placed on sale in Washington, DC, on April 17, 1967, during National Grange Week. Artist Lee Pavoa of New York City captured a bit of nineteenth century Americana in his design. According to the artist, The five-color stamp suggests a poster of the type the Grange distributed to recruit new members in its early days. Perforated 11 and featuring phosphor tagging, the stamp was printed on the Giori press, issued in panes of fifty and authorized for an initial printing of 120 million.