HISTORY OF THE GRANGE
150 years of fraternal activism, community, and leadership
The Minnesota State Grange is engaged in a most worthy endeavor
. . . for it is. . .
the story of a sincere and earnest people who unconsciously made history.
—Brother Albert S. Goss, National Grange Master
United Nations FAO, Geneva, September 9, 1947
A History of the SGMN
by Robert Tristee
First Among Granges (1869-1892)
Sarah Baird & a Leadership of Women (1893-Present)
A Recommitment to the Cause of Fraternity (1929)
National Shrine & Minnesota Home,
the Oliver H. Kelley Farm (1934-Present)
The Era of Pearson Growth (1937-1973)
An Organization of a Different Era (1974-2011)
Official Name: High State Grange of Minnesota of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry
Motto: First Among Granges
Mission: Vibrant communities, sustainable agriculture, and a healthy state for every Minnesotan.
Pillars: Agriculture, Community, Tradition, Leadership
Founded: February 23, 1869 In: St. Paul
By: Oliver Hudson Kelley
Headquarters: Historic Minnehaha Grange Hall, Edina
Current Master & President: John Crippen
There were. . .nearly three hundred [active] Granges in [Minnesota] by 1876. The local groups met monthly, semimonthly, or sometimes weekly in schoolhouses, homes, or Grange [H]alls to perform the work of the ritual, listen to programs, play games, and partake of refreshments. On other occasions, groups of local lodges banded together to hold picnics or festivals or to celebrate the Fourth of July. The social influence of such activities was naturally considerable, and much credit should go to the Grange for its work in breaking down rural social isolation. Indeed, one writer maintains that the “old provincialism of the agricultural population had received such a shaking up that it never again sank quite to the old level.
—Merrill E. Jarchow, The Earth Brought Forth
OHK Grange meeting, 2014
In November of 2012, Minnesota’s agricultural heritage came full circle with the organization of the Oliver Hudson Kelley Grange, No. 834. OHK Grange—named in honor of the founder of the Grange—was the first Community Grange organized in the state in nearly thirty years, and one of only two organized in Minnesota since 1962. The following summer, in June 2013, the National Grange presented the original 1873 Degree Pageants at the historic Oliver Hudson Kelley Farm, a Minnesota Historical Society site. Over four-hundred Grangers from across the country attended the event at the founder’s 19th century farmstead. A new era of Grange ideology had begun in Minnesota.
1873 Degree Participants
First Among Granges (1869-1892)
I suggest the project of organizing an order to embrace in its membership those persons interested in cultivating the soil. I should make it a secret order, with several degrees, and signs and passwords. The lectures in each degree should be practical, appertaining to agricultural work, and at the same time convey a moral lesson. While the order would aim to advance agriculture to a higher rank, by encouraging education, it would at the same time naturally embrace the benefits to its members guaranteed by Masonry. Every tool used by farmers and gardeners could be emblems of the order in some degree, and each convey a practical and moral lesson.
—Oliver Hudson Kelley, August 1867
The State Grange of Minnesota was officially organized by Minnesota farmer, Oliver Hudson Kelley and representatives from nine Community Granges gathered in St. Paul on February 23, 1869, fifteen months after he and six friends formed the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry in Washington, DC. The SGMN motto, First Among Granges reflects—in part—the proud history Minnesota Grangers celebrate in being the first State Grange in the nation. Oliver Hudson Kelley was a prominent and progressive farmer from Elk River, working for the newly founded Department of Agriculture whose vision of uniting American Farmers under a collective voice first took root in Minnesota.
The Grange grew rapidly and Minnesota quickly became a leader among Grange States. Within ten years, over five-hundred and fifty Granges had been organized in Minnesota. Much good was accomplished to the interest of the farmer in sponsoring legislation controlling railroads and monopolies. The Granger Laws of the 1870s broke the corporate hold on setting freight and shipping rates on the grounds that unregulated corporate power was detrimental to the persons as individuals and the people as a whole. When upheld by both the Minnesota State Supreme Court and the Supreme Court of the United States, the Grange tenet of opposing monopolies was solidified in the American psyche.
Cooperative buying and selling initiatives were organized by Community Granges. Roughly half of of these, through over-enthusiasm and lack of good judgment proved to be failures. Partly because of this and an unsustainable growth, the Grange in Minnesota began waning. While its membership declined, the SGMN continued to be active in support of any measure which would benefit the farmer and Minnesota communities.
Oliver Hudson Kelley
In the 1880s the State Grange of Minnesota formed a Patrons Aid Society and Funeral Benefit Fund for aiding and assisting the families of deceased members was formed. Cooperative buying continued and legislative advocacy progressed in St. Paul.
6th Annual Session of the High State Grange of Minnesota Northfield, MN, 1875
[The high attendance of membership at] Pleasant Mound Grange, No. 214. . .in Blue Earth County [illustrates] the great importance [Grange was for] its members as roads and mode of travel were at a very low level in those early days. These get-to-gethers afforded members a good social meeting where they would [also] make up a club order for groceries, dry goods, farm tools, “green coffee”. . . and sugar which came from Montgomery Ward, Chicago and would be distributed at a future meeting. Improved methods of farming were common topics for discussion at all meetings and this organization also sponsored system of “fairs” held at the farm homes of the various member. . .which became so popular that they rivaled the county fairs.
—Diamond Jubilee State Grange of Minnesota, 1947
In 1887 a committee was appointed to lobby the State Legislature for an appropriation to create a State school of agriculture. As a result of this important Grange work, the School of Agriculture at University Farm in St. Paul was established. The SGMN contributed to funding for the first dorms, and petitioned for the admittance of women to the school.
Sarah Baird & a Leadership of Women (1893-Present)
Whereas the State Grange recognizes the equal rights of women by receiving them into full membership, with the privilege of filling every office and voting for every officer and measure, [Be It] Resolved, that the State Grange believes this equality of rights of women should be extended also to matters of the state and that it fully endorses the suffrage for women and pledges its influence to secure for them this right protective of all other rights—a voice in the government under which they live.
—SGMN Special Committee on Women’s Suffrage, 1906
A Recommitment to the Cause of Fraternity
The Grange is too vital, too important, too much the marrow to Minnesota's bones to allow it to sleep within the boarders of our Great State, even for an instant.
—Fred K. Willson, Acting State Master, 1928
Post Card of the West Hotel, Minneapolis
The First World War saw continued decline in State Grange membership and by 1927, there were only six active Community Granges in Minnesota. The recommitment to the Grange in Minnesota is almost wholly due to the leadership of Fred K. Willson whose grandparents had been charter members of Minnehaha Grange in Edina. At Brother Willson's request, National Master Louis J. Tabor visited Minnesota in 1928 holding exploratory meetings and developing a strategic plan to revive the Grange in Minnesota. In October, 1929—only days before the stock market crash—the High State Grange of Minnesota of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry was reorganized at the West Hotel in Minneapolis. The Annual Session of the State Grange of Minnesota has been held in the month of October every year since reorganization.
In 1931, the famed National Grange Deputy, Ira E. Shea of Washington State was sent to Minnesota to organize Granges. In a matter of two months he had organized seven Community Granges in Mille Lacs County, as well as Mille Lacs County and Oliver H. Kelley Pomona (county level) Granges.
Despite the hardships associated with the Great Depression, the 1930s was a decade of stability and progress for the State Grange of Minnesota.
More Grange History
The first official act of the newly reorganized SGMN was the reorganization of Sunbeam Grange, No. 2, at Elk River, the home Grange of Oliver Hudson Kelley. Sunbeam Grange continues to be one of Minnesota’s most active Granges to this day.
Whereas, there are many incompetent drivers of motor cars in Minnesota as in other states, which greatly increases the accident hazard, [B]e [I]t [R]esolved that the Minnesota State Grange go on record as favoring a State Driver’s License Law.
—SGMN Resolutions Committee, 1931