When the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry was first organized in Minnesota in December 1867, its goals were primarily social and educational. The organization spread rapidly throughout the agricultural Midwest, attracting more than 850,000 members by 1875. The Grange’s purpose also expanded—it experimented (unsuccessfully) with cooperatives, and, angered by hard times, tight money, and high railroad shipping rates, moved into politics. Members elected sympathetic state legislators who passed laws (most of them later declared unconstitutional) regulating railroad and grain elevator charges. When agricultural conditions in the Midwest improved in the 1880s, the Grange’s membership dropped to 150,000. The Farmers Alliance (or Populists) soon replaced the Grange as the primary voice of radical agrarianism. Still, the Grange continued as a nationwide social organization. Like other fraternal organizations, its members took part in elaborate rituals and ceremonies, as reflected in the following excerpt from the 1895 Grange Manual.
Alarm from the A.S. [Assistant Steward].
S. [Steward] Worthy Overseer, an alarm at the gate.
O. [Overseer] See who approaches.
A.S. Men seeking employment.
S. Are they unconstrained and willing?
A.S. They are.
S. Have they been tried and found worthy?
A.S. They have.
O. Admit them for examination.
S. [Opens the door] It is the pleasure of our Worthy Overseer that you enter the field with this caution: use discretion, respectfully obey all orders and, should work be assigned you, labor with diligence.
A.S. Let our future conduct prove us.
O. Who comes here?
A.S. Worthy and honest men seeking wisdom, who desire to become laborers in the field.
O. What wages do they expect?
A.S. Wisdom, and not silver; knowledge, rather than fine gold.
O. Are you satisfied of their integrity?
A.S. I am.
O. Friends, is it of your own freewill that you ask the position?
Cand. [Candidate] It is.
O. It is well. Conduct them to our Worthy Master; from him you will receive further instruction.
M. [Master] In the presence of our heavenly Father and these witnesses, I do hereby pledge my sacred honor that, whether in or out of the Order, I will never reveal any of the secrets of this Order, unless I am satisfied by strict test, that they are lawfully entitled to receive them, that I will conform to and abide by the Constitution, rules, and regulations of the National Grange, and of the State Grange under whose jurisdiction I may be, that I will never propose for membership in the Order, anyone whom I have any reason to believe is an improper person; nor will I oppose the admission of anyone solely on the grounds of a personal prejudice or difficulty. I will recognize and answer all lawful signs given me by a brother or sister of the Order, and will render them such assistance as may be needed, so far as I may be able and the interest of my family will permit. I will not knowingly wrong or defraud a brother or sister of the Order, nor will I permit it to be done by another, if in my power to prevent it. Should I knowingly or willfully violate this pledge, I invoke upon myself suspension or expulsion from the Order, and thus be disgraced among those who were my brothers and, sisters.
M. Brothers and Sisters, is this your Obligation?
Candidates. (All answer in a clear voice.) It is.
[Song . ]
A.S. I will now introduce you to our Worthy Chaplain.
Chap. Worthy Brothers, agriculture is the first and noblest of all occupations. It is the only one directly instituted by our Creator. God planted the Garden of Eden, and placed man therein to tend and keep it. He caused to spring forth out of the ground every tree and plant that is pleasant to the sight and bearing fruit good for food. It was a command of the Almighty that man should till the ground. History proves that where agriculture has been fostered, that nation has prospered and reached a high degree of perfection; but where it has been neglected, degeneracy began. Let us heed the warning and escape the doom.
S. Worthy Overseer, an alarm at the Gate.
O. See who approaches.
A.S. Brothers, who, having finished their labor in the harvest field, seek advancement.
S. Do you vouch for them?
A.S. I do.
A.S. Worthy Overseer, brothers, who have served faithfully, desire to become Husbandmen.
O. Brothers, your industry, zeal, and efficiency have gained you the approbation of your companions in our Order; and the uprightness of your conduct, and your fidelity to your pledges, are evidences of your moral worth and fitness to be received among honorable Patrons. The position of Husbandmen further confers upon you great privileges, and binds you in a closer tie of brotherhood. It is your desire to proceed?
Cand. It is.
A.S. Worthy Master, brothers, true, worthy, and well qualified, are prepared to give the pledge of the Fourth Degree.
[M. administers the pledge] I hereby renew and confirm the obligations I have heretofore taken in this Order; and solemnly declare that I will never communicate the secrets of this Order to anyone unless legally authorized to do so; and that I will endeavor to be a true and faithful Patron of Husbandry, perform the duties enjoyed in this Order, and aid others in the performance of the same.
O. Brothers, you are now about to receive your reward as faithful Harvesters. It is to be made Husbandmen in our Order—a position reached by merit alone. There are duties devolving upon you and, in their proper observance, your example will reflect credit upon you and our Order.
As a Husbandman, look with earnest solicitude upon children and their welfare; and remember that they are to follow in our footsteps. If we desire to encourage them to love rural life, we must make its labors cheerful. We may tell them of the pleasures and independence of the farmer’s life; but if their daily intercourse with us shows it to be tedious, irksome, laborious, without any recreation of body or mind, they will soon lose all interest in it, and seek enjoyment elsewhere. Therefore, strive to make your homes pleasing.
Adorn your grounds with those natural attractions which God has so profusely spread around us; and especially adorn the family circle with the noble traits of a kind disposition—fill its atmosphere with affection, and thus induce all to love and not to fear you; for love is the only enduring power.
Suggestions to Officers and Members of Subordinate Granges in Relation to Degree Work and Paraphernalia
1. All Officers of Subordinate Granges, before attempting to confer degrees, should make themselves thoroughly familiar with the ritual—not only the lectures, but the preparations and directions.
In order to attain the highest degree of proficiency and discipline, special drill meetings should be held by the officers.
2. They should see that the room is in order, with the officers' desks as located in the diagram in late editions of the Manual.
The regalia should be kept in wardrobe in anteroom, and no one be allowed to pass the inner gate unless attired in regalia.
3. The altar should be in position and have the open bible upon it. There should be a neat oilcloth or an appropriate rung in front of O.
4. All officers should be supplied with their proper emblems and use them in the discharge of official duties.
5. The S. has the general charge of the arrangement and preparation of the room for conferring degrees, also of the decorations.
6. While the candidates are being prepared in preparation room, the M. should caution officers and members to strive to make the degree as impressive as possible. The choir should be ready to sing when needed, and instrumental and vocal music should accompany the movement of candidates upon the floor, unless silence is required in the instructions.
7. The italic instructions in the Manual must be carefully observed.
Instructions in General Decorations.
Directions for Stage and Court. To give an impressive effect to the court in the several degrees, the stage should not be less than ten feet deep and fifteen feet wide for an ordinary good sized Grange Hall.
If stage scenery is used, which adds much to the effect of the court, the deeper the stage the better the effect.
In almost any good-sized town a professional stage-fitter can be found who would be glad to take the contract to put in the slides and scenery similar to those used in opera houses.
Curtains. The curtains for the stage should not be less than seven feet high. They can be made of two-faced, maroon-colored, cotton flannel, which will cost through our Grange Houses, about fifteen cents per yard.
The Robe. Material, navy blue cheesecloth, or calico, made sailor fashion, trimmed with white braid. A white cord and tassel confines it at the waist. A shepherdess' hat completes the costume. Requires about ten yards of material. The same suit is worn throughout all the degrees.
Directions for Making Court Robes. The robes can be made so that they may be worn as over-dresses; fitting anyone.
First, make a sack, with flowing sleeves; with draws of cord at the neck and waist; next make the overdress. Next cut two widths, from the waist down, allowing for a train, and complete the skirt, by sewing to front piece at waist. Such a stage robe will fit anyone.
These robes can, of course, be made by any other method preferred, so that the ideal of the colors is preserved.
The cheesecloth is wide and soft, consequently makes up and drapes very nicely, and will take about eight yards for a suit.
The whole outfit will probably cost from twenty-five to thirty-five dollars; costlier material can, of course, be used.
Source: Manual of Subordinate Granges of the Patrons of Husbandry, 7th ed. (Philadelphia, 1895), 7–9, 46–49. Reprinted in David J. Rothman and Sheila M. Rothman, eds., Sources of the American Social Tradition, Vol. II, 1865 to Present (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1975), 99–104.