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 foundation 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 small-town 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."