On December 4, 1867, in a small Washington, D.C building that housed the office of William Saunders, Superintendent of Propagating Gardens in the Department of Agriculture, the Order of Patrons of Husbandry was born. Here, sitting around a plain wooden table, a small group of seven earnest men, planned what was destined to become a vital force in preserving and expanding American democracy. They were all men of vision, they had faith in God, in their fellow men and in the future. The Seven Founders of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry were:
- Oliver Hudson Kelley
- William Saunders
- Aaron B. Grosh
- John R. Thompson
- Francis M. McDowell
- William M. Ireland
- John Trimble
Their names are inscribed on a Birthplace Marker located near the site of the original building on the south side of 4th Street SW, near Madison St on the Mall. The marker was officially dedicated on September 9, 1951 and is the only private monument on the Mall.
ORIGINS OF THE GRANGE
Oliver Hudson Kelley is regarded as the father of the Grange movement. He was born in Boston in 1826, and in early life took up a homestead in Minnesota.
In 1856, Kelley, having served several years as a member of the small staff of the newly created Department of Agriculture, was authorized by the first Commissioner of Agriculture, Isaac Newton, to make a survey of farm conditions in the South following the Civil War.
During this time Kelley conceived the idea that a fraternal organization, composed of farmers from all sections of the country, would help heal the scars caused by the war, as well as improve the economic and social position of the farm population.
Upon his return to Washington, Kelley communicated his ideas to some of his friends in government service, and enlisted their support.
These men framed a ritual consisting of seven Degrees and a constitution and met in the office of William Saunders in Washington, D.C. on December 4, 1867, to formally organize the National Grange. Miss Caroline A. Hall, a niece of O.H. Kelley, who long served as his secretary, was the first to suggest that women be admitted to membership on a basis equal to men.
Resigning his position in the Department of Agriculture, Kelley then left Washington on April 3, 1868, to establish the new organization throughout rural districts. On April 16, 1868, in Western New York, he founded Fredonia Grange No. 1, which is still an active Grange today.
Before the close of the year 1872, over a thousand Granges, located in more than half of the states of the Union, were organized. Kelley and his family then moved to Washington, D.C. to live. It was in the parlor of this home in Georgetown, January 8, 1873, that the National Grange first met as a representative body, with 27 delegates from eleven states.
The first recorded communication relative to a Grange in California came from the pen of Mr. A. A. Bayley of Pilot Hill, California, to Oliver Hudson Kelley, Secretary of the National Grange. As a result of this communication, Mr. Bayley organized the Pilot Hill Grange on August 10, 1870, with 29 charter members. Pilot Hill Grange No. 1 is still in existence in 1999. In the spring of 1871, Mr. W. H. Baxter, a farmer of Napa County, made contact with Mr. Kelley, with respect to the wants and needs of the farmers of California.
As a result of an exchange of letters between Baxter and Kelley, Mr. Baxter was commissioned as a Deputy of the National Grange of California, and he began at once to diffuse information about the new organization and its advantages to the farmers of the State. After two years, however, he had been successful in organizing only one Grange, Napa Grange No. 2. Mr. Baxter, however, patient and willing to persevere, watched for every opportunity to promote the Grange and finally, on April 8, 1873, he was invited to speak on the subject at the Farmers Union Convention in San Francisco. His presentation was so persuasive that the Convention at once passed a resolution authorizing the Executive Committee to incorporate a part or whole of itself as a branch association cooperative with the Farmers Union and proceeded to elect officers. John Bidwell was elected president. The Convention adjourned and the Farmers Union never met again except for a final settlement of its affairs. The continuation of its work was formally turned over to the Granges and the Farmers Union ceased to exist.
The California State Grange was organized at Napa on July 15, 1873. In the previous two years, thirty-three new Granges were organized, twenty-nine by Deputy Baxter. A total of thirty-five were eligible to sit in Convention. Of this number, twenty-nine were represented at the organization meeting. This Convention proposed legislation to reduce railroad fares, freights, and port charges; and for the development of irrigation. Other specific objectives were to establish a cooperative system of trade, and to organize banks from which farmers could obtain loans at reasonable rates. The first Annual Convention of the California State Grange was held October 14, 1873 at San Jose, with 104 Granges represented.
The Grange prospered for a few years and then, in 1876 started a rapid decline in membership and by 1880, it had lost its influence, membership had dropped to less than 3000, and throughout the forty years which followed, the Grange became nearly extinct as a fraternal order and quite helpless as a general farmers’ organization.
A revival in Grange work began in the years shortly thereafter, when membership started to increase only to drop to an all-time low of approximately 1,280 members in 1889. The State Master, in his report to the National Grange, said, “The California State Grange is in the morgue and ready for burial.” Because of this weakened condition, Grange prestige remained at a very low ebb.
In 1908, the State Grange decided to reorganize a cooperative enterprise– fire insurance– on a fraternal/mutual basis without capital stock. It was necessary to first pass a law through the legislature permitting such companies to operate. After two unsuccessful attempts to get the law enacted, success was attained in 1913. The Grange Fraternal Fire Insurance Association was organized in 1916 with the first policy issued in May of that year, and the company grew steadily from that date.
The State Convention held in Redding in 1929 made a declaration that startled California. It reaffirmed a position held on conservation in keeping with the Grange program adopted in 1873, 1874, and 1875, by urging the development of the water resources of the State by the construction of a dam at Kennet, now known as the Shasta Dam, with combined State and Federal funds, to conserve water for irrigation in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys. The delegates asked that electric power and power sites be developed with the project. In adopting this policy, the California State Grange became the first statewide organization to support the construction of the Shasta Dam.
It was no small responsibility to start legislation in motion to supply the arid sections of the valleys with water and electricity at a price farmers could afford to pay. But the delegates returned to their homes full of confidence and enthusiasm. They had elected George Sehlmeyer of Elk Grove, who was a staunch supporter of the new movement, as State Master. Upon his shoulders they placed the administrative task of carrying out the wishes of the delegates. The State Grange then consisted of 82 Subordinate Granges with a membership of 8,348.
The Shasta Dam was built, and many other local projects have been achieved by individual Community Granges and by the collective effort of all of the Granges throughout the State of California. Membership has varied over the past 75 years and currently stands at approximately 12,000 in 200 local, Community Granges.
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