I’ve read lots of books in which The Grange played a big part of the story. But it wasn’t until I recently read it in a romance novel that I decided I wanted to find out more about the organization. Before now, everything I knew about it I could put in a thimble. That’s to bluntly say I didn’t know squat.
It was formed by Oliver Hudson Kelley in 1867. He recognized a need for the farmers to band together. The purpose in the beginning was to provide educational events and social gatherings that were meant to relieve the tedium and isolation of farm life.
1873 saw a severe financial depression. The New York Stock Exchange closed for ten days. Credit dried up. Foreclosures were common and banks failed. The farmer suffered more than anyone. If his crops made he couldn’t sell them. Without selling them he lost his farm. Is it just me or does this resemble the circumstances this country has had to deal with in the last two years? Strange how history repeats itself.
Farmers in the 1800’s were plagued by low prices for products, growing indebtedness, and discriminating practices by railroads.
Oliver Kelley and his fellow Grange members decided to wage a war against monopolies, especially railroads which almost totally handled shipping of crops to market. At the time, there were only a handful of railroad companies so they charged outlandish prices for their services. The farmers saw that railroads had a stranglehold on the American economy, especially American agriculture.
- Cooperative purchasing as a means to lower prices on farm machinery & supplies
- Pooling money to combat dependence on corrupt banks
- Cooperative grain elevators which enabled the farmer to hold non-perishable crops until prices rose
When The Grange first came into being under Oliver Kelley, they borrowed rituals and symbols from Freemasonry, including secret meetings, oaths, and passwords. Elected officers opened and closed each meeting and there were 7 degrees of Grange membership. During the last few decades, The Grange has moved toward public meetings and no longer meets in secret.
Another interesting fact: The Grange was responsible for rural mail delivery.
The Grange is still in operation today. In 2005 they were 300,000 members strong.
Today the Grange provides valuable assistance when government can’t and individuals aren’t strong enough. The organization focuses on building community and people. I imagine they’ll be around as long as there are farmers.