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Around The Grange
The National Grange--a Remembrance

By Bill Harshaw, Faceless Bureaucrat Blog (3/8/11)

  MARCH 23, 2011 --

Extension.org's RSS feed the last couple days has been focused on cooperatives, including this piece on early cooperatives.  The first national one was the Grange, or The National Grange of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry.  Turns out it was triggered top down: the first organizational meeting was in USDA offices  in DC. 

The Grange was still biggish where I grew up, biggish because the community was so small as to be almost non-existent. In my early years there were the Methodist church and the Grange hall (a barn which had been converted and improved over the years). Some people were active in the church, at least when they weren't turned off by the minister the bishop had assigned.  Some people were active in the Grange, and not the church.  Some, like my mother, were active in both, and got very aggravated when there were conflicts between the two.  In my early years the Grange hall had the facilities for dances and community suppers. But when the church members dug out and finished a basement under the church for meeting rooms, the monopoly on eating facilities was broken. Dancing, of course, was still verboten for Methodists.

When it was created, and during my mother's early years, the Grange could be the center of social life, at least nondenominational social life. Its organization had roles for men and women, more egalitarian than many of the churches of the time. Economically it could join with other organizations to form buying and marketing co-operatives, like the Northeast's Grange League Federation (Dairymen's League and Farm Bureau Federation) in which my father was active.  Politically it was one of the big three ag groups, behind the Farm Bureau (which my home county claims to have started), and jousting with the National Farmer's Union. 

Lifetime habits and organizational inertia kept the Grange going into the mid-20th century, but then it faded as the car, radio, and TV offered more entertainment possibilities. It's still around, as a visit to the website shows, but not any more in my locality of birth.

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