Dayhoff: Dec. 4 marks 150th anniversary of the forming of the National Grange

Dayhoff: Dec. 4 marks 150th anniversary of the forming of the National Grange
“Gift for the Grangers” was an 1873 promotional poster for the National Grange, which was formed 150 years ago, on Dec. 4, 1867. (Courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.)

On Dec. 4, 1867, the Grange — the oldest agricultural advocacy organization in the United States, the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry — was formed. According to a history of the Grange found on the national organization’s website, the Grange was started “in a small Washington, D.C., building that housed the office of William Saunders, Superintendent of Propagating Gardens in the Department of Agriculture …”

Perhaps one of the better explanations of the Grange may be found in a article. “Although the Grange, like the Masons, began primarily as a social organization designed to provide educational and recreational opportunities for farmers, it evolved into a major political force.


“Farmers who gathered at local Grange Halls often voiced similar complaints about the high rates charged by warehouses and railroads to handle their grain, and they began to organize for state and federal controls over these pivotal economic issues. The Grange smartly recognized the importance of including women, who often proved to be the organization’s most dedicated members. … The Grange … played a key role in creating the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887…

“The Grange’s political activism resulted in a flurry of legislation that became known as the ‘Granger Laws.’ … These laws have provided, “a crucial precedent for state and federal regulation of private enterprise for the ‘public interest…’”

To this day.

I was reminded of the 150th anniversary of the National Grange by my colleague in agriculture, Allen Stiles, who along with his wife, Kay, and his brother Wayne, run a 200-acre dairy operation in northern Carroll County with the Jersey breed of cattle. Before I finally retired in 1999, I raised nursery stock on a small farm and got to know Allen when we helped advocate for the adoption of a “Right to Farm” ordinance in Carroll County on Dec. 2, 1994. Subsequently Allen and I served together on several Right to Farm Agriculture Reconciliation Committees. Kay and Allen have served in various leadership roles with the local, state, and national Grange organization, for many years.

In an article written by Carrie Ann Knauer for the Carroll County Times on March 20, 2005, Ralph Robertson, then the county agricultural land preservation specialist, reported that agriculture is the No. 1 industry in Carroll County, “And Carroll County holds a high reputation for agriculture in a state that relies on agriculture as its biggest industry. …”

Economic historians note that between 1865 and 1900 was a period of enormous agricultural unrest in the country which had profound economic and political repercussions that remain a part of public policy to this day.

As an aside, the current climate of unrest in the county over immigration, globalization, market fluctuations, taxation, and matters of access and utilization of credit essentially pale in comparison to the enormous political and social unrest over these very same issues in the 1865 to 1900 period.

As previously reported in the Baltimore Sun, before 1865 the business of farming was, for the most part, a subsistence existence. After the Civil War, farmers became increasingly “dependent on creditors, merchants, and railroads for their livelihoods. These relationships created opportunities for economic gain but also obligations, hardships, and risks that many farmers did not welcome,” notes James I. Stewart, an economist and historian at Reed College.

A direct outgrowth of this period was the advent of “efforts of farmers to join together for mutual gain. Farmers formed cooperatives, interest groups, and political parties to protest their declining fortunes and to increase their political and economic power,” according to Stewart.

The annual Carroll County 4-H and FFA Fair that we know today, has its roots “as a picnic at Otterdale Schoolhouse on Aug. 14, 1897,” according to an article in the Carroll County Times on July 29, 2007. “By 1902, the Taneytown Grange was involved and the gathering was known as the Grangers' Picnic. … In 1911, the picnic became officially the Maryland Grange Picnic and hosted a number of exhibitors from throughout the state. The prime objective of this event was still to educate the farmer through lectures arranged by the Maryland State Grange and the Maryland Agricultural College. It was common for the governor to be a speaker at this event.”

On March 20, 1954, Lester Stem of the Pomona Grange, was a founding member of the Carroll County Agriculture Center, which formed at the end of a dirt road in the middle of farmland south of Westminster.

In addition to Allen and Kay, today the Carroll County Pomona Grange No. 2 and the Medford Grange No. 188, are led by folks such as Lawrence Meeks, Cliff Newsome, Virginia Stoner, and Rita and Tom Holland, to name a few, who continue to play a leadership role in the community.

We owe a great debt to the National Grange and the many local Grange organizations that have played a critical role in the county’s history and the quality of life that is Carroll County today. Join me in wishing the Grange a happy 150th anniversary.