A national society of farmers, the Grange established its first West Virginia lodge in the early 1870s at Summit Point in Jefferson County. Formally known as the Patrons of Husbandry, the society set out to provide farmers with the most up-to-date agricultural information, to lobby against high railroad transportation costs and high tariffs on imported goods, and for rural mail delivery. The Grange’s meetings also gave isolated farm families the opportunity to socialize.
The Grange, organized nationally in 1867, grew rapidly, becoming a powerful political force in the Midwest and other places. By 1875, the Grange had 20,000 lodges throughout the country and 800,000 members. In 1876, West Virginia had 378 lodges with a total of 10,700 members. The Grange was most popular in the north-central counties of Harrison, Lewis, Barbour, Doddridge, Marion, and Upshur. In West Virginia, the Grange worked to create a state board of agriculture, offer agricultural education to elementary and secondary school students, and lobby for laws to lower rail shipping costs.
Membership in the Grange declined in the 1880s because of continued rate discrimination by railroads against farmers, declining farm prices, and a lack of money. Farmers turned for help to another national organization, the Farmers’ Alliance. Thomas Clark Atkeson, president of Morris Harvey College from 1896 to 1897, revived the state Grange and led the organization from 1897 to 1920. He was also dean of West Virginia University College of Agriculture 1897–1910 and a member of the State Board of Agriculture. During Atkeson’s tenure, the Grange helped to create the Public Service Commission and pushed for tax reform.
In West Virginia, the Grange in 2001 had about 400 members in eight north-central and Northern Panhandle counties. In recent years, the Grange has lobbied in favor of personal property rights by opposing more stringent water quality standards and the endangered species act, and called for a reduction in the deer population.
Ambler, Charles H. & Festus P. Summers. West Virginia: The Mountain State. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1958.
Rice, Otis K. & Stephen W. Brown. West Virginia: A History. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1993.
Conley, Phil, ed. West Virginia Encyclopedia. Charleston: West Virginia Publishing, 1929.
Cite This Article
e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia "The Grange." e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. 09 March 2011. Web. 19 April 2015.