December 4th of this year will be the 150th anniversary of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, commonly known as the Grange. Born out of the interest following the Civil War to assist in the rebuilding of the Southern farms, it is the oldest American agricultural advocacy group with a national scope.
Oliver Kelley was an employee of the federal Department of Agriculture and was sent to the southern states to review the post-war situation. Being a federal employee, especially from the North, his presence was not well received. However, he gained favor with Southerners who shared his membership as a Freemason. Southern Masons provided him with the contacts as he toured the war-torn South and was shocked by the outdated farming practices.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 consultations with other interested parties, the Grange came into being.
In its early years, the Grange was devoted to educational events and social gatherings. The organization was unusual for its time because women and any teen old enough to “draw a plow” were encouraged to join. The importance of women in the organization was reinforced by requirements that four of the elected positions within a locally chartered grange could be held only by women.
The Grange has always focused on policies, not partisan politics. One of its specific objectives states, “We shall earnestly endeavor to suppress personal, local, sectional, and national prejudices, all unhealthy rivalry and all selfish ambition.” Some of the policy changes they championed were lower rates charged by the railroads and the beginning of rural free mail delivery by the Post Office. The Grange also endorsed the Temperance movement and women’s suffrage.
When the Grange first began it borrowed some of its rituals and symbols from Freemasonry. It also borrowed from Greek and Roman mythology and the Bible. Small, ceremonial farm tools are often displayed at Grange meetings. There are seven degrees of Grange membership—the ceremony of each degree relating to the seasons and various symbols and principles.
The first Grange in town was the St. George Grange at Wiley’s Corner, founded in 1903. The Ocean View Grange in Martinsville followed in February of 1906.