Patrons of Husbandry
Established in the late nineteenth century, the Grange, formally known as the Patrons of Husbandry, was an organization created to assist farmers with the various problems that they faced.
In 1867, Oliver H. Kelley, an employee in the Department of Agriculture, founded the Patrons of Husbandry. The Grange's purpose was to provide farmers with an organization that could assist them with any difficulties that arose. During the late 1860s and 1870s, farmers faced numerous problems, including swarms of grasshoppers, extravagant railroad fares to ship crops, expensive farming machinery, high interest and mortgage rates, high costs to store grain in silos, and falling prices. Farmers in the Great Plains and the South quickly rallied to the Grange, although this organization also gained members in other parts of the United States.
By the early 1870s, the Patrons of Husbandry boasted more than 1.5 million members. Most rural communities across the United States eventually had a Grange chapter. Many chapters built their own meeting halls. These halls provided a place for the farmers to meet, but they also served as places for dances, quilting bees, and other social activities, helping alleviate the isolation of farm life. Grange members also pooled their monetary resources to purchase machinery in a communal fashion. Rather than each farmer owning his or her own plow, the Grange would purchase several plows and share those among its members. To avoid the extravagant prices of some storeowners, the Grange also established its own stores that charged fairer prices. By the early 1870s, the Ohio Patrons of Husbandry claimed to have a store for every county Grange organization. Members also constructed their own grain elevators to avoid the high rates of the railroad companies. Grange organizations also lobbied for government regulation of railroad freight charges. In Ohio, the Grange helped secure a law that set the maximum charge for a ton of freight at five cents per mile.
The Grange, unlike many organizations during this period, allowed women to become members. The Patrons of Husbandry organized special activities for its women members, helping to provide a support system for farmwomen. The Grange also called for women receiving the suffrage, one of the first predominantly male organizations to do so. Children also participated in the Grange, eventually leading to the creation of the Future Farmers of America.
As a result of economic downturns, such as the Panic of 1873, the Grange began to decline in popularity. Many local Grange organizations had purchased too much machinery communally to pay off their bills. By 1880, Grange membership had fallen to 100,000 members. The Patrons of Husbandry continue to exist today, but it does not have nearly as much power as it had during the late 1860s and the early 1870s. By the 1880s, new farmer organizations developed, including Farmers' Alliances and the People's Party.