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This colorful automobile plaque, dating from about the 1920s, identifies its owner as a member of the Grange. The Grange – or “the National Order of the Patrons of Husbandry” – was founded in Washington, D.C., on December 4, 1867. It sought to educate and build cooperation among American farmers. By organizing, these farmers hoped to maintain their status and livelihood in a rapidly industrializing world.
The “Granger” movement soon spread throughout the nation. By 1872, the first Michigan Grange – called Burnside No. 1 Grange – was organized in Lapeer County. The organization proved so popular with Michigan farm families that by 1875, there were over six hundred active Michigan Granges, with a collective total of 33,000 members.
Grange members worked together to promote legislation that they viewed as beneficial. They lobbied to improve roads and schools and to establish rural free delivery of mail. They also supported pure food laws and worked for tax reform and the regulation of railroads and public utilities.
Grange emphasis on education led to early efforts to promote both local schools and land-grant colleges. As a result of Grange efforts, college enrollment among rural families increased, as did agricultural journal and newspaper subscriptions. The social aspects of the Grange were also considered important. Many Michigan farm families came together at Grange fairs, dances and picnics, which were a welcome and fun break from the hard work of nineteenth century farm life.
To make their organization more attractive and interesting, Grange founders drew on their collective agricultural experience, using symbols such as the plow, scythe and spade to illustrate their principles and goals. These symbols were featured on pins, sashes and staffs carried and worn during meetings. Officers were styled after an old English manor with Masters, Overseers, Stewards and Gatekeepers. Others took their titles from Classical mythology: Ceres, Flora and Pomona.
Like many nineteenth century social organizations, the Grange held its meetings in private halls with passwords and had different ranks, or degrees, of membership. Unlike most groups of the day, they allowed women to participate on equal terms and to hold office. From the start, Grangers advocated equal rights for women, and in 1912, the Michigan State Grange became the first in the nation to campaign for women’s suffrage.
Dora H. Stockman, State Grange Lecturer from 1914 to 1930, was the first woman in Michigan to be elected to statewide office. She won a seat on the State Board of Agriculture in 1919 – one year after Michigan voters approved statewide women’s suffrage. Stockman also created the Four Leaf Clover Clubs, one of the forerunners of today’s 4-H clubs.
Other famous Michigan grangers include Cyrus G. Luce, Michigan governor from 1887 to 1891, and Mary Bryant Mayo, State Grange Chaplain in the late-1880s and 1890s. Mayo campaigned for women to be admitted to Michigan Agricultural College, now Michigan State University. Over the past 137 years, the Grange has left a rich legacy of charity, community service, and education, which continues today.
See the Past
Come see more Grange gear and regalia from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in a special exhibit at the Michigan Historical Museum through July 17th, 2009 in the Museum’s second floor atrium.
To learn more about Michigan’s farm and rural history please visit our gallery Rural. Michigan, 1865-1900 by clicking here: Rural. Michigan, 1865-1900
or in person at the Michigan Historical Museum, 702 W. Kalamazoo Street, Lansing MI 48915, (517) 373-3559, TDD (517) 373-1592
Explore today’s Michigan State Grange by clicking here: Michigan Grange