History of the State Grange

The Massachusetts State Grange is one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the commonwealth. The first Grange in Massachusetts was organized on June 17, 1873 in Greenfield, and was named Guiding Star Grange #1. Between then and December 2, 1873, seventeen more Granges were organized. They were in Deerfield, Northfield, Boston, Harvard, Danvers, Pittsfield, Acton, Ware, Groton, Conway, Barre, South Deerfield, Monson, Hadley, Amherst, Cheshire, and Palmer.

As fifteen Granges were sufficient to create a State Grange, a meeting was held at Greenfield, with representatives from the above named Granges on December 3 and 4, 1873, where the Massachusetts State Grange was organized. This date coincides with the anniversary of the organization of the National Grange on December 4, 1867. The first officers were elected, including four women officers. In the Grange, women have always been given the full benefits of membership, including the right to serve as elected officers.

The Grange was organized in difficult times. During the years following the Civil War, farmers were struggling to make a living. The whole nation was dealing with an economic depression. The founders of the Grange, also known as the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, formed the organization in part to give farmers an opportunity to share ideas and assist each other through difficult times.

Initially, the organizers found it easy to create new Granges throughout the state. People were willing to join the Grange under its promise of increase income through cooperative stores that also allowed supplies to be purchased at bulk, discounted rates. Within two years, there were 100 Granges in Massachusetts.

These early Granges encountered a great deal of problems, however. Some cooperative stores were managed by inexperienced workers, and the Grange had not been around long enough to establish an identity for itself, causing disorganization within the Grange. These, along with other issues, caused the closing of many local Granges, leaving only 26 remaining in 1878.

Despite the problems encountered during the early days of the organization, those involved in the Grange were determined to preserve and build their organization. At a meeting of the State Grange in 1879, the Treasurer reported that their treasury was down to one cent. State Master (President) James Draper stood up, pulled a penny from his pocket, and announced; “Now we have doubled the funds of our treasury. Let’s go ahead and build the Grange.” It was this type of dedicated that helped the Grange continue to grow to its peak of over 51,000 members in 1949.

Throughout its history, the Grange has done many things to benefit the people of Massachusetts and the local communities within the commonwealth. This work, much of which is organized by the State Grange’s many committees, has been in the form of lobbying for legislation, completing community service projects, donating to worthy causes and providing programs to attract members who will assist in the work of the Grange.

The roots of the Grange exist in the field of agriculture. Many of the Grange’s programs keep this important cause in mind. The Massachusetts State Grange was a major part in the adoption of the first Arbor Day observance in 1885. It also began a long-standing relationship with Heifer Project International in 1959. This is an organization that provides livestock and agrarian education to poor families around the world so that they can provide for themselves. The Massachusetts State Grange also supports Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom, a program that educates children about agriculture. Over the years, local

Granges throughout the state have sponsored agricultural fairs in their own communities. The Grange has also worked to preserve open lands, protect wildlife, assure strict health standards for American farm products, and keep our air and water clean.

The Grange has always had an interest in the legislative process. From the early days of the National Grange, when lobbying Congress to protect farmers from the high prices charged by railroads for the transport of farm products, the Grange has been concerned with legislative issues of concern to its membership. In more recent times the Grange has been involved in issues such as supporting tougher penalties for drunk drivers, encouraging increased safety measures for roads and bridges, supporting closed caption television for the hearing impaired, requiring all homes to have smoke detectors, among many other issues.

The Grange has also done a great deal to benefit families and local communities. Major fundraisers have been held to support causes such as the American Cancer Society, Joslin Diabetes Foundation and the National Cystic Fibrosis Association. The Grange has also sponsored community projects such as bloodmobiles, collecting eyeglasses and hearing aids for the needy, donating homemade stuffed toys to children’s hospitals, and knitting hats and booties for premature babies in local hospitals.

Each year the Grange sponsors the State Health Project which collects donations from local Granges to give to a specified, health-related cause. Over the years, this project has benefited causes such as the March of Dimes and the Beverly School for the Deaf.

One health related cause that has consistently been a focus for the Grange since 1979 is that of issues concerning the deaf and hearing impaired. Over the years, the Grange has donated educational materials about ears and hearing to schools, books about deafness to libraries, and sign language charts to local emergency workers such as police and EMTs. Grange members can benefit from the Grange’s Hearing Aid Fund which provides monetary assistance toward the purchase of hearing aids.

Just as women have the benefits of equal membership in the Grange, so do young people. Membership in the Grange is open to anyone who is age 14 and over. Many special programs and events are sponsored by the Grange’s Youth Committee for members in this age group. The Grange youth program has sponsored White Water Rafting trips, outings to amusement parks and museums, and the annual Bowling Contest to raise funds for programs such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House. The newly created Young Adults Committee sponsors programs and events of interest to young married couples and young families.

Since 1956, the State Grange has sponsored a popular summer event for young members called Youth Leadership Training School (YTLS). Throughout its history, the 4-5 day conference has been held at various locations, including college campuses and campgrounds. The program for the event includes classes on leadership and different aspects of the Grange, as well as fun events like day trips to a beach and the annual banquet.

The Grange sponsors many contests for its members on local, state and national levels. These contests are designed to give members the opportunity to compete in fun events that also help them learn more about the various programs of the Grange. Over the years, various committees have sponsored coloring, essay, and photography contests. The bakeoff and needlework/sewing contests are also sponsored annually.

The Deaf Awareness department sponsors a Sign-a-Song contest in which contestants perform their favorite song in sign language. The Youth department sponsors many favorite competitions, including the Public Speaking contest, Drill contest, and the Ambassador program. Youth Ambassadors from each state are awarded the opportunity to represent their states at the National Grange Convention’s youth program each year.

The Master (President) of the Grange at all levels is the official who has the authority to organize committees and events, and has significant influence on the direction taken by the Grange during his/her term of office.

T. L. Allis of Conway was the first Master of the Massachusetts State Grange. He was elected at the organizational meeting of the State Grange in December, 1873, and only served until the first annual session was held in February, 1874.

Joseph P. Felton of Greenfield served in the office from 1874 – 1875. He was a farmer and Master of Guiding Star Grange #1 in 1873, and invited the Granges of Massachusetts to Greenfield for the organizational meeting of the State Grange.

Thaddeus Graves of Hatfield was State Master from 1875 – 1877. He had served as Lecturer (Program Director) of the State Grange prior to becoming Master, and served as leader of the State Grange during very difficult times.

Benjamin P. Ware of Marblehead also served the State Grange as Master during the most turbulent early years of the organization, from 1877 – 1879. No new Granges were organized during his term of office, but the first Grange hall, that of Dalton Grange #23, was dedicated during this time. This was viewed by many as a sign of hope for the young organization.

James Draper of Worcester, was State Master for eight years (1879 – 1887), the longest term in the State Grange’s history. He had been the first Master of Worcester Grange #22, the largest Grange in the state at that time. During his administration, the number of Granges in the state grew from 26 to 67. He went on to hold the position of High Priest of Demeter, and was elected National Master in 1888.

Arthur A. Brigham of Marlboro served as State Master from 1887 – 1888. He served as State Secretary before being elected Master, and assisted in the organization of 15 new Granges during his involvement in the Grange. He also assisted with the organization of Granges in Rhode Island leading to the organization of the Rhode Island State Grange. Later in life he served as Professor of Agriculture at the Rhode Island Agricultural College.

Henry A. Barton, Jr. of Dalton held the office of State Master from 1888 – 1889. He also served in the positions of State Overseer (Vice President) and member of the Executive Committee of the State Grange.

Norman B. Douglas of Sherborn was State Master from 1889 – 1891. It was during this time that the Dairy Bureau was enacted and the first Grange representative was sent to the State House to protect the agricultural interests of the commonwealth.

Elmer D. Howe of Marlboro served as State Master from 1891 – 1897. He wrote brief histories of the State Grange for the 25th, 40th and 50th anniversaries, omitting reference to any of his accomplishments. During his term in office, the number of Granges and members in the state grew. He also served as a trustee for the Agricultural College at Amherst.

Warren C. Jewett of Worcester was state Master from 1897 – 1901. He was a successful farmer, and worked, through the Grange, for the passage of agricultural legislation. He was also a member of the State Board of Agriculture.

George S. Ladd of Sturbridge served the State Grange as Master from 1901 – 1905. He served as State Lecturer before becoming Master, and began a new emphasis on education within the Grange, later serving as Secretary of the Educational Aid Fund.

Carlton D. Richardson of West Brookfield held the position of State Master from 1905 – 1909. He organized 26 Granges. He was a member of the State Board of Agriculture, the State Cattle Bureau, and chairman of the Dairy Commission in the Department of Agriculture.

Charles M. Gardner of Huntington, State Master from 1909 – 1913, was instrumental in the creation of the highly successful Educational Aid Fund, a State Grange program that gives out many scholarships and loans to Grange members who are furthering their education. He was also editor of the National Grange Monthly for many years. He published the book on Grange history entitled Grange – Friend of the Farmer, and served the state as head of the Massachusetts Dairy Department. He was elected High Priest of Demeter in 1913 and served until 1947.

Edward E. Chapman of Mendon was State Master from 1913 – 1917. He emphasized community service programs within local Granges, and at this time the State Grange began offering prizes for excellence in local improvement.

Leslie R. Smith of Hadley served as State Master during the U.S. involvement in World War I, from 1917 – 1921. The State Grange saw its first lost in membership during this time, due largely to the influenza outbreak in 1918. He went on to serve as Priest Archon of the Assembly of Demeter from 1929 – 1932.

Ernest H. Gilbert of Stoughton held the office of State Master from 1921 – 1925. He served as State Secretary after holding the office of Master. During his term of office, aid to

Grange fairs was increased, and he promoted the building of the Juvenile Grange program, a level of Grange membership for children as young as 5.

William N. Howard of North Easton held the office of Master from 1925 – 1929. During this time, many Grange halls were dedicated and community service programs were emphasized by the State Grange. He was involved in the organization or reorganization of 62 Granges.

Henry N. Jenks of Cheshire was State Master from 1929 – 1933. During his term, the State Grange increased its emphasis on agriculture, promoted highway safety, and started a series of Grange radio programs.

Samuel T. Brightman of Fairhaven served as State Master from 1933 – 1937. During his term, Juvenile Granges grew, the number of Grange fairs increased and a continued emphasis was placed on highway safety.

Everett W. Stone of Auburn held the office of State Master from 1937 – 1941. During his term the New England Grange Building on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield was constructed. This building has long served as a needed headquarters for the New England State Granges. During World War II, the Government used this building for the military and returned it to the New England State Granges at the end of the war. During his term, the State Grange reached its goal of enacting legislation to name the American Elm as our State Tree and the Chickadee as our State Bird. He served in the State Legislature and as Treasure of the National Grange from 1939 – 1944.

Harvey G. Turner of Andover served as State Master from 1941 – 1945. He began a program of holding officers meeting across the state, which was successful until gasoline rationing during World War II made these meetings no longer possible. He served as Priest Archon of the Assembly of Demeter from 1941 – 1945.

L. Roy Hawes of Sudbury held the office of State Master from 1945 – 1949. He was interested in the youth of the Grange and started the Youth Camp Fund to sponsor Youth activities throughout the state. He also began Grange participation in the Blue Cross Hospitalization Plan of insurance for members. He also served as Commissioner of Agriculture in Massachusetts for many years. He served the National Grange on the Executive Committee and as Priest Archon of the Assembly of Demeter.

Charles H. Brown of Pittsfield was State Master from 1949 – 1953. He appointed the first State Grange Youth Committee in 1950. State Grange fundraising programs also increased under his leadership.

E. Gerry Mansfield of West Peabody, State Master from 1953 – 1957, was appointed to the State Department of Agriculture and served as Director of Fairs. During this time the State Grange increased its aid to many health related organizations in the state and on a national level.

Arthur F. Thompson of Malden held the office of State Master from 1957 – 1961. During his term, the Charles M. Gardner State Park in Huntington was created as the result of a bill he supported. The official publication of the State Grange, then called the “Guidelines” was first distributed during his term of office. The paper, now called the State Grange News, is still printed and distributed to members and others across the state and nation.

John E. Johnson of Chelmsford was State Master from 1961 – 1965. The State Grange turned its support of Heifer Project into an annual project during his term of office.

Frank H. Nelson of Athol, State Master from 1965 – 1969, was in office when the State Grange presented the first laser instrument in New England to repair retina damage to the Joslin Diabetes Foundation in Boston. Funds were raised from Granges throughout the state by holding various fundraisers.

C. Wesley Thayer of Feeding Hills held the office of State Master from 1969 – 1973. It was during his term of office that the Massachusetts State Grange celebrated its centennial anniversary. As a Director of the New England Grange Building, he spent much of his time in its interest and use.

Rexford R. Smith of West Springfield served as State Master from 1973 – 1977. He encouraged the formation of the Massachusetts State Grange Federal Credit Union to aid members with financial matters. He also formed the Massachusetts State Grange Youth Leadership Association, a Grange for youth to gain experience in the workings of the organization. At this time, the Grange was represented in the legislature by a Legislative Director who spoke for the interests of the Grange.

State Master Vernon P. West of Williamsburg served from 1977 – 1981. He was especially interested in the growth of the organization and stressed communication and publicity as a means of gaining public attention and support for Grange programs and attracting new members. He served as National Grange Treasurer from 1979 to 1981.

Robert E. Barrow of Swansea served as State Master from 1981 – 1985. During his term, the Massachusetts State Grange purchased the Albert J. Thomas Library/Museum in Rutland. This building houses the State Grange archive and memorabilia and serves as a meeting place for Grange committees. He served as National Grange Secretary and Lecturer before being elected National Grange Master in 1987.

Kenneth B. Skinner, Sr. of East Bridgewater served as State Master from 1985 – 1989. In 1986, the First Annual State Grange Fair was held in Spencer. Communication Conferences, where State Grange Officers and Committees shared ideas, were held to help build a stronger Grange. His aim in the Grange was dedicated to its growth and the service it provides for its members.

Floyd E. Murphy of Northboro held the office of State Master from 1989 – 1993. He was interested in the preservation of Grange ritual and working with the Junior Granges (previously called “Juvenile Grange”) throughout Massachusetts. He led the plans to raise funds for the National Grange Convention held in Springfield, Massachusetts, in November 1997, and appointed a Steering Committee to prepare for the occasion.

Thomas F. Severance of North Brookfield served as State Master from 1993 – 1997. He appointed a Ways and Means Committee to help raise funds to support the budget and programs of the State Grange. He served as President of the Directors of the New England Grange Building and was elected Priest Archon of the Assembly of Demeter in 1995.

Kathleen M. Peterson of Holden was elected as the first women Master of the Massachusetts State Grange, and served from 1997 – 2001. During her term, the State Grange developed a strategic communications plan for future planning, created its website, improved safety measures for young members, instituted awards for excellence in Grange service, and began its involvement in the National Grange “Action Grange” program. Massachusetts hosted the National Grange Convention in 1997, and then went on to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the State Grange. She was elected Lady Assistant Steward of the National Grange and also served as Trustee, Building Manager and first Director of the Big E Grange Experience at the New England Grange Building.

Mary J. Jordan of Rutland held the office of State Master from 2001 – 2005. During her term, the State Grange focused on community involvement. The Program Expo was implemented during her term to assist Granges in planning quality programs on a local level. She established a new committee on the State level with the purpose of researching and providing information to Granges about how they can obtain grant monies to improve their halls, about insurance needs for Granges, and also building code information. Many changes were made to the State Grange website during her term, and the site was greatly improved and made more useful to Grange members and the general public.

Calvin C. Chase, Jr. of Dunstable served as State Master from 2005 – 2011. He assigned each committee the task of creating a set of policies of what the Grange supported in their specific area. During his term the State Grange officers worked on the Grow Grange program, an initiative focused on revitalizing Granges and assisting them in growing their membership so that they may do more to help their local communities. During Brother Chase’s term the State Grange expanded its support of FFA and 4-H programs, and focused on support of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families foster care program.

Matthew J. Johnson of Haverhill was elected Master of the Massachusetts State Grange in 2011 and currently serves in this position.  Brother Johnson has focused on energizing Grange members to organize or reorganize Granges in their local communities, and also to organize new Junior Granges throughout the state.  During his term the State Grange continued to expand its support of agricultural causes by launching the Grange Roots initiative – a program that focuses on promoting agricultural education.  Through this program, the State Grange has expanded its support of programs such as Agriculture in the Classroom and launched a partnership with the University of Massachusetts to support the University’s Agriculture Learning Center.

Today, members of the Massachusetts State Grange make a difference in the quality of life in our state. The actions of the Grange benefit all of us on a local, state and national level.

For more information about the history of the Massachusetts State Grange, please contact our State Historians.