Mention the work “Grange” to anyone familiar
with rural communities and chances are that food is the first thing that
comes to mind. Pancake breakfasts, chicken and biscuit dinners are a long-standing
tradition of the Grange. The word “grange” derives from the
Latin word granum, meaning grain, and is historically associated with “granges,’ the
large farming estates in England and Ireland. From the Grange’s inception,
members shared a meal together (with food comes fellowship) before
attending to the business of the evening. The Grange became an important
of rural social life in the United States and sought to change legislative
and political policies for the betterment of farmers, their families,
and their communities.
The first official meeting of the Founders of the Order of Patrons of
Husbandry took place November 15, 1867 in Washington, DC. Following this
meeting, an official organization known as the National Grange was formed
on December 4, 1867.
Fredonia #1, located in Chautauqua County, NY was the first dues-paying
Grange in the world. It was established April 16, 1868. The Grange stood
for cooperative buying and selling amongst farmers and helped establish
life insurance to meet the needs of members. In 1920, the New York State
Grange, the Dairymen’s League and the State Farm Bureau combined
to form the Grange League Federation or G.L.F. as it became commonly known.
In 1964, this became what is today known as Agway, Inc. Other forms of
cooperation for the Grange included like insurance, mutual fire insurance,
and liability insurance.
The Subordinate or “local” Grange is the cornerstone of the
movement. It is found on main streets and rural roads throughout smalltown
America. The Pomona or “county” Grange is a separate, independent
entity operating under the auspices of the Patrons of Husbandry, which
heads the county and oversees Subordinate Granges.
The grange was established as a fraternal order and emphasizes traditional
procedures or rituals. Each grange is required to present the flag, and
open the Bible. Escorting guests in the hall is up to the Steward, the
Assistant Steward or the Lady Assistant Steward. There is also a Gatekeeper
who “guards” the main entrance into the hall while the meeting
is being conducted. These titles date from old English manors, and they
originally designated jobs performed on the farm by its employees.
Like many other fraternities, the Grange has different degrees. Members
advance from one level to the next by participating in or observing the
rituals for that level. Each degree consists of short speeches given by
officers explaining the symbolic ”tools” seen in the Grange
hall such as the hoe and plow. There is also a Junior Grange that enables
children ages five to sixteen to participate in plays, debates, and other
personal growth programs at an early age.
Unlike other fraternal orders of the period, the Grange allowed women
as equal members. During a period where women had the same legal status
as freed slaves, this was a radical and significant step toward greater
equality for women. Years later, it was Susan B. Anthony, speaking at the
37th session of the National Grange who admitted she had always been able
to recognize a “Granger woman as far off as she could see her, because
of her air of feeling herself as good as a man.”