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State Grange of Minnesota

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Color image of a Minnesota State Grange picnic held on the Sletton Farm in Aitkin on June 13, 2015.

Minnesota State Grange picnic held on the Sletton Farm in Aitkin on June 13, 2015. Shown are members of Sunbeam Grange #2, Oak Leaf Grange #569, Clear Lake Grange #692, Lake Hubert Grange #735, and Oliver Hudson Kelley Grange #834. Photographed by Alan Champion.

For almost 150 years, the State Grange of Minnesota as an organization has thrived, faded, and regrouped in its efforts to provide farmers and their families with a unified voice. As the number of people directly engaged in farming has declined, the State Grange has shifted its focus toward recruiting a new type of member—often younger—interested in safe, healthy, and sustainable food sources.

Oliver Hudson Kelley and six associates founded the National Grange and Order of the Patrons of Husbandry in late 1867. As designed by Kelley, the purpose of each local Grange was to educate famers and their families, enrich their social lives, and share information on the growing of crops. Granges also offered advice on marketing crops and livestock and setting up produce cooperatives. Together, they aimed to create a social fraternity that united farmers across the country.

State Granges needed a minimum of fifteen local Granges to qualify for National Grange certification. Kelley personally undertook the responsibility of organizing what was to become the State Grange of Minnesota.

Organizing conditions were favorable in 1869, when the prices paid to farmers failed to match the costs of production. Railroads kept the grain transport costs high. Grain elevators controlled the prices farmers received for grain. Kelley envisioned that the state and local Grange subordinates would fight against the railroads, elevators, and other exploiters of local farmers.

By February 23, 1869, Kelley personally had organized enough subordinate Granges to certify the State Grange of Minnesota. It was the first State Grange established in the country. By the end of 1869, thirty-nine subordinate Granges were active. By 1874, 450 Granges had been established.

Ignatius Donnelly, a long-time populist and Grange member, called a meeting of all Grange members in 1873. They created the Anti-Monopoly Party, a political party that in partnership with the Democrats came close to capturing all state offices in 1874.

The party’s creation caused a split between members who wanted the Grange to be a political force and others who felt it should remain non-partisan. This ideological split, in concert with bad financial decisions concerning Grange ownership of cooperative businesses, caused a steep drop in the number of subordinate Granges.

In 1887, the State Grange requested that the Minnesota Legislature appropriate funds for a state school of agriculture. The project was promoted heavily by State Master William S. Chowen and associates James A. Bull and J. D. Scofield. The legislature established the School of Agriculture on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus a year later. At first, the school served only male students. In 1897, after nine years of continuous pressure from the Grange, the program became co-educational.

The National Grange was the first national organization to mandate leadership roles for women. It specified that at least four of its sixteen elected positions were to be held by women, with the remainder open to both men and women. In 1893, Sarah E. Baird, a member of Minnehaha Grange No. 398, was elected as the first female master of the State Grange, a position she held until 1912. The Grange rules and rituals also strongly encouraged participation by youth.

By 1925, the State Grange no longer had enough local Granges to be recognized officially by the National Grange. In 1928, the National Grange authorized a reorganization effort, which by 1929 resulted in the State Grange being reinstated.

Spurred on by public demand for inexpensive social outlets during the Great Depression, the number of individual subordinates grew to seventy-five between 1930 and 1950. Granges provided many social outlets by conducting youth summer camps, hosting Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, preparing entries for County Fairs, and conducting community service projects.

In 1934, the Minnesota State Granges sent a resolution to the National Grange to acquire Oliver Kelley’s homestead in Elk River. In 1935, the National Grange took possession of the property. During the next twenty-five years, a wide range of state and subordinate Grange activities took place on the site. In 1960, the 189-acre farm was donated to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Throughout its history, the State Grange has been faithful to its priorities of education, community service, non-partisan problem solving, and grass-roots leadership. In the 1960s, the National Grange expanded its membership beyond famers to include any who share these core values.

In 1972, the State Grange listed thirty-five subordinate Granges in its published centennial history. This decline followed massive changes that began in the 1960s and undercut the appeal of the Grange. The total number of farms decreased. On the farms that remained and grew in size, fewer people actively engaged in agriculture because of mechanization. The populations of rural towns and townships dwindled, while at the same time entertainment options for rural people expanded to include at-home television viewing.

These trends continued throughout the second half of the twentieth century. When Kelley organized the first Granges in Minnesota in 1869, those not living on farms were in a distinct minority. By 2000, people residing on farms were about 3 percent of the state’s population.

In 2003, due to budget cuts, the Minnesota State Historical Society decided to close the Oliver Kelley Farm and six additional historic sites owned by the Society. The State Grange was an early participant in a successful effort to stop the closures.

In 2012, just when it appeared that the State Grange would fall under the minimum number of subordinates, several employees of the Oliver Kelley Farm organized a new subordinate Grange. Based in the historic Minnehaha Grange Hall in Edina, Oliver Hudson Kelley Grange #834 has demonstrated an appeal to urban people interested in a range of agriculture issues. These include organic food production, farmers markets, community gardens, seed harvesting and preservation, urban farming, and Master Gardener programs.

In October 2014, the State Grange approved the Minnesota Growth Project, a focused effort to establish additional subordinate Granges. The project targets anyone with a genuine interest in healthy food and small-scale food production as well as a commitment to the values and mission of the Grange.

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© Minnesota Historical Society
  • Bibliography
  • Related Resources

Davis, C. Jerome. Proud Heritage: The Early Years of the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry. Washington, D.C.: National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry, 1987.

Gardiner, Charles M. The Grange—Friend of the Farmer: A Concise Reference History of America’s Oldest Farm Organization, and the Only Rural Fraternity in the World, 1867–1947. Washington, D.C.: National Grange, 1949.

Howard, David H. People, Pride and Progress: 125 years of the Grange in America. Washington, D.C.: National Grange, 1992.

Mattson, Ronald Edward. The Minnesota State Grange: Roots of Reform: 1868–1885. Phoenix, AZ: Arizona State University, 1974.

Proceedings of the Granges of Minnesota, 1891–2014
Editor’s Note: These publications are available under multiple library call numbers and are described in multiple catalog records at the Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul. Copies of individual proceedings are also held by the Minnesota State Grange.

uarc 694
Coates Preston Bull Collection, 1912–1938.
University of Minnesota Libraries, University of Minnesota Archives.
Description: See especially Bull’s pamphlet “History of Relation of Minnesota Grange to School of Agriculture.”

Woods, Thomas A. Knights of the Plow: Oliver H. Kelley and the Origins of the Grange in Republican Ideology. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1991.

Related Audio

MN90: Home of the Grange | Details

Related Images

Color image of a Minnesota State Grange picnic held on the Sletton Farm in Aitkin on June 13, 2015.
Color image of a Minnesota State Grange picnic held on the Sletton Farm in Aitkin on June 13, 2015.
Black and white photograph of a Grange Hall in Pleasant Grove, 1873.
Black and white photograph of a Grange Hall in Pleasant Grove, 1873.
Black and white photograph of a State Grange meeting at Northfield. Taken by Edward Newell James, c.1875.
Black and white photograph of a State Grange meeting at Northfield. Taken by Edward Newell James, c.1875.
Oliver H. Kelley
Oliver H. Kelley
Black and white photograph of a Grange Hall, in Bloomington, c.1890.
Black and white photograph of a Grange Hall, in Bloomington, c.1890.
Black and white photograph of a State Grange booth at the Minnesota State Fair, c.1948.
Black and white photograph of a State Grange booth at the Minnesota State Fair, c.1948.
Black and white photograph of Grange Hall (Minnehaha Grange Number 398) in Edina, 1948.
Black and white photograph of Grange Hall (Minnehaha Grange Number 398) in Edina, 1948.
Black and white photograph of Governor Elmer Benson signing a bill with Grange Master William B. Pearson looking on, 1963. Photographed by Eugene Debs Becker.
Black and white photograph of Governor Elmer Benson signing a bill with Grange Master William B. Pearson looking on, 1963. Photographed by Eugene Debs Becker.
Color image of a wooden ballot box with hinged lid containing forty-two marbles and twelve black plastic cubes. Used by the Minnesota Grange.
Color image of a wooden ballot box with hinged lid containing forty-two marbles and twelve black plastic cubes. Used by the Minnesota Grange.

Turning Point

In the 1970s, the number of Minnesotans actively and directly engaged in farming decreases. A corresponding decline in the number of local Minnesota Granges eventually forces the creation of a new member-recruitment strategy.

Chronology

December 4, 1867

The Grange is organized in Washington, D.C., by Oliver Kelley and his associates.

February 23, 1869

The State Grange of Minnesota is organized by Oliver Hudson Kelley. It is the first state Grange to organize.

Septem-ber 2, 1873

Minnesota Grangers meet in Owatonna to launch the Anti-Monopoly Party.

1888

The Minnesota School of Agriculture is created by the state legislature on the University of Minnesota’s St. Paul campus.

1893

Sarah E. Baird is elected the first female Master of the State Grange of Minnesota.

1929

The State Grange of Minnesota is reorganized.

1935

The National Grange purchases the Oliver Kelley Farm.

1960

The Minnesota Historical Society acquires the Oliver Kelley Farm site.

1992

There are nine active subordinate and five active Pomona granges in Minnesota.

2003

The State Grange of Minnesota helps prevent the closing of the Oliver Kelley Farm site.

2013

Oliver Hudson Grange #834 is founded.