The Patrons of Husbandry – Part 1 (9/16/2022)

Have you ever heard of the Patrons of Husbandry? Typically this group is known just as the Grange and members may be called Grangers.

Some of the readers of this Footnote may live in areas where the Grange is active and some of you may live in areas where the Grange is not well known. In this Footnote we will learn more about what was once the largest agricultural organization in America.

 Figure 1. The Grange Logo

In the Beginning

The story of the Grange starts with Oliver Hudson Kelley. He was born in Boston in 1826. At the age of twenty-one he moved “out west,” first to Iowa then Minnesota. In the fall of 1850 he and his wife bought land near Elk River, Minnesota and Kelley became a “book farmer.” He learned the latest farming techniques from agricultural journals.  He experimented with a variety of crops ranging from asparagus to melons and was the first farmer in Minnesota to grow timothy hay and the first to own a mechanical reaper. He also installed an irrigation system and experimented with a variety of livestock.

In 1852 Kelley was involved in creating the first county agricultural society and a year later was instrumental in forming the Minnesota Territorial Agricultural Society. Because of his involvement with the agricultural societies he wrote to farm journals and newspapers about agricultural advances.

Figure 2. Oliver H. Kelley

In 1864 Kelley was offered a clerkship in the United States Department of Agriculture which he readily accepted because Minnesota was in the throes of a severe drought. The agreement was he would work for the USDA in the fall and winter and return to his farm during the spring and summer.

In January of 1866 President Andrews Johnson requested to meet with Kelley. The President asked Kelly to travel through the South and determine what the true agricultural situation was in the South. In other words, how bad was it? After the Civil War, agriculture in America was hurting. Prices for agricultural commodities were falling, the dollar was depreciated, the railroads were unregulated, and interest rates were high (15-20%).

Kelley started his fact finding trip on January 13, 1866. While traveling around the South he was discouraged by the sectionalism and the distrust of “northerners”. Many of the farmers he encountered were socially isolated and ignorant of new developments in agriculture. However, since Kelley was a Mason, he was welcomed by fellow Masons in the South. After touring the war torn South, he saw the need for a social/advocacy group for farmers.

Accordingly, he started outlining a plan for a farmers organization and shared his plan with several close associates. An organizational meeting was held on December 4, 1867 in Washington, D.C. Sitting around the table were seven men who are known as the founders of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry.  They were:

  1. Oliver Hudson Kelley – Driving force in establishing the organization, a Mason. At the time of the meeting he was a clerk in the Post Office.
  2. William Saunders – Superintendent of the USDA Propagating Garden, a Mason. He developed the name, lower degrees, and general organizational structure. The meeting was held in his office.
  3. John R. Thompson – A clerk in the Treasury Department, a “high degree” Mason, he developed the higher order Grange degrees.
  4. William Ireland – A clerk in the Post Office, a “high degree” Mason, a parliamentary law expert, he wrote the constitution and by-laws
  5. Reverend Aaron B. Grosh – A USDA employee, he contributed to the rituals and prayers in the lower degrees, also collected Grange melodies
  6. Reverend John Trimble – A Treasury Department employ, he was considered the “critic and advisor”, he was a friendly counsellor
  7. Francis M. McDowell – a pomologist from Wayne, NY. He organized the financing.

During the entire process of organizing the Grange, Kelley relied heavily on his niece, Caroline Hall. Kelley sought her input during the entire incubation period. She attended the original organization meeting and urged complete equality for women. She said the organization would never be successful without full participation of the women. She handled most of the Grange correspondence and record keeping in the early days. In 1892 she was recognized as equal to the other founders and is now known as the 8th Grange founder.

Figure 3. Caroline A. Hall

While some organizations have bronze, silver, and gold levels of recognition for donors, the National Youth and Junior Grange program has eight levels of sponsorship. Each level is named after one of the founders of the Grange. Where do you think Caroline Hall ranks? See Figure 4 to find out.

Figure 4. Grange Youth and Junior Sponsorship levels.

Originally, there was considerable discussion involved in coming up with the name for the organization. Some of the names considered were “Independent Order of Progressive Farmers,” “Knights of the Plow,” “Knights of the Sickle,” “Tillers of the Soil,” “Brethren of the Vine,” “Lords of the Soil,” “League of Husbandry” and “Knights of the Flail.” The word “Lodge,” “Homestead,” “Garden,” “Grove,” and “Arbor” were also mentioned to identify local groups of the organization.  Eventually (Kelley, 1875, p. 48), “It was decided that the name of the Order would be ‘Patrons of Husbandry’. And branches of it are known as Grange instead of Lodges.”

The word Grange has a long history. In Great Britain a Grange is a country house with farm buildings attached. The origin of the word Is granum which is Latin for grain. In old French grange means “barn or farm house.” In the 1800s it was common to call a farmer a granger in the United States.

The Organizational Structure

Originally the Grange was a social organization designed to provide educational and recreational activities for farmers. However, when the members met, they often discussed agricultural prices, railroad monopolies, and such. Soon the Grange became more political and advocated for federal and state control of economic issues.

The mission statement of the Grange (which was revised in 2019) is “The Grange strengthens individuals, families and communities through grassroots action, service, education, advocacy and agriculture awareness.”

There are four levels in the Grange organization. They are:

Figure 5. The Structure of the Grange

Back when one county might have five or six local Granges, it made sense to have a Pomona Grange but today the need for the Pomona Grange is greatly diminished. In North Carolina there are only two Pomona Granges.

Originally there were 16 officers at each level of the Grange, of which four offices must be held by women. The President and Vice President once carried the title of Master and Overseer. These titles were derived from the old-time estate system in England. However, they were changed later so as not to confuse them with terms used during the days of slavery. Today the number of officers in the Grange varies depending on membership and local circumstances.  In North Carolina the minimum required slate of officers is the President, Vice-President, Secretary-Treasurer, Chaplain, and Program Director. This document from the Oregon State Grange describes the historical various offices and duties of the Grange officers. It is interesting to see the parallelism between the Grange offices and the FFA offices.

When the Grange was established, it incorporated many aspects of freemasonry including having degrees of membership and secret rituals. There were seven degrees of membership, secret rituals, and even secret passwords (to keep railroad spies out of the meetings). Today the degrees of membership are not stressed that much, and the secret aspects of the Grange have generally been removed. To learn more about the seven Grange degrees the California Granger web site describes them.

The Grange Motto is:

In essentials. ..Unity
In non-essentials. ..Liberty
In all things.

As the Grange movement grew local granges often built meeting halls. Figure 6 is a collage of Grange Meeting Halls across the country.

Figure 6. Grange Halls

Image 1 & 2 Fredonia, NY. This was the first “real” Grange in America. It is located in Chautauqua County, New York. It is ironic that I was speaking at the Chautauqua Institution located in the same county three weeks ago. My topic was the impact that Sears and Roebuck had on Rural America. Sears partnered with the National Grange in a Community Improvement Program starting in 1948.

Image 3 – Willakenzie Grange Hall in Eugene, Oregon

Image 4 – Broad Brook Grange Hall in Guilford, Vermont

Image 5 – Rochester Grange Hall, Massachusetts

Image 6 – Salisbury Center Grange Hall, New York

Image 7 – Worley Grange Hall,  Idaho

Image 8 – Hopewell Grange Hall in East Peoria, Illinois

Image 9 – Buckeye Grange Hall in Buckeye, California

Image 10 – Evening Star Grange Hall in Dummerston, Vermont

Image 11 – Granger Hall cemeteries are found in Virginia, Alabama, New York, Missouri, and Texas. There are several cemeteries in Texas named Grange Hall.

The Grange’s political activism resulted in legislation that became known as “Granger Laws.” The Grange played an important role in:

  • Passing of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887 which helped regulate railroads
  • Creating the Farm Credit Act
  • Supporting legislation for rural free delivery of mail
  • Advocating for rural electrification and soil conservation legislation
  • Campaigning for the Smith-Hughes Act (vocational education) and Smith-Lever Act (Cooperative Extension Service
  • Laying the groundwork for farm cooperatives
  • Giving cabinet status to the USDA

At one time membership in the Grange was 2 million. One out of three farmers belonged to the Grange. Since this was the first organization of its type, everyone wanted to join. Membership soon had to be limited just to farmers.

However, over time other agricultural organizations emerged, the number of farmers declined, and society changed along with technology. Today, the membership number is closer to 150,000. The Grange is active in 36 states and has 1,700 local chapters. The Grange is still the center of rural life in many communities.

Concluding Remarks

This Footnote is part 1 of 2 Footnotes. It primarily focused on the development of the Grange. Next week we will look at current activities of the Grange and have three agricultural teachers describe their involvement with the Grange. We will also look at the relationship between the Grange, 4-H, and FFA. So stay tuned.

In 1874 the National Grange published the following Declaration of Purpose:

“We cherish the belief that sectionalism is, and of right should be, dead and buried with the past. 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.”

You might want to read it a second time. This is a powerful statement.  If we were to replace the word “sectionalism” with a word or phrase from the current times, what would it be? What should we declare “dead and buried with the past”?

Teaching Idea

Show the video Postwar Progress: Oliver Kelley & The Grange and discuss with your students.

Pass out copies of the 1874 Grange Declaration of Purpose and discuss the meaning with your classes. Why was this important in 1874? Then ask the students to identify a current problem or issue and rewrite the declaration of purpose by substituting another word for sectionalism and deleting or adding words as needed.



California Granger website.

Gentry, Jimmy. NC State Grange President, personal communication

Kelley, O. H., Origin and Progress of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry in the United States. Philadelphia: J. A Wagenseller

National Grange website.

National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. Wikipedia.