April 16: Planting The Seeds of A Powerful Agricultural Movement

As the United States grew in size and population in the 19th century, formal social groups and fraternal societies of all kinds sprang up whose missions encompassed lofty themes of patriotism, industry, fellowship, and civic service. The National Grange of Patrons of Husbandry was one such organization, founded in 1867 as a community organization for farmers and their families. At a time when the nation was becoming primarily both urban and industrial, the Grange movement gave voice and unity to the social, economic, and political needs of America’s agrarian communities.

Unlike the overwhelming majority of fraternal-style societies in the 19th century, the Grange allowed women and men to join as equal members. Acknowledging the primary importance of the family in rural American history and culture, the organization also offered Junior Grange programs for children.

In the decade following the founding of the National Grange, states began to open their own affiliate chapters of the agricultural society. On April 16, 1875, the Connecticut State Grange was officially founded after two days of meetings among western Connecticut farmers at the Taylor Opera House in Danbury. While it struggled with membership numbers and financial stability during its first decade, the Connecticut Grange found new life after it was reorganized in 1885. It underwent rapid expansion, growing to 150 local chapters with 13,000 members by 1890. As part of a vast agricultural social network, Grange members learned how to mobilize for the benefit of their rural communities, sharing state-of-the-art farming practices and techniques, building Grange Halls to serve as community gathering places, and organizing fairs, agricultural competitions, and farmers markets. The Connecticut State Grange played a significant role in advocating for the Storrs Agricultural School, a higher education institute that would later become the University of Connecticut.

Grange Halls remain an important presence in Connecticut’s agricultural communities, hosting public social events, providing educational opportunities for members young and old, sponsoring community drives and fundraisers, and supporting agricultural initiatives throughout the state. While overall membership has declined since the early 20th century, today there are nearly 60 active local Granges operating under the mantle of the Connecticut State Grange. The seeds of a transformative agricultural movement were first planted today in Connecticut history.

Tobacco barns in Suffield, Connecticut. (Carol Highsmith collection, Library of Congress)

Further Reading

History of the Connecticut State Grange,” Connecticut State Grange website

List of Historic Grange Halls in Connecticut, via Historic Buildings of Connecticut blog

Declaration of Purposes,” National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry

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