At the museum we have newspaper articles dating back to the 1960s. While reading through them recently I note the usual organizations on the island during that era: the Chamber of Commerce, Hobby and Pine Needle Club, Ladies Auxiliary Fire Department, Matlacha Beach & Park Association, Grange.
Who was this unknown organization and what was its purpose? The regularity of the articles suggested they met weekly.Their attendance seemed to be equally men and women. They discussed a wide range of subjects. They served food afterwards.
Their mission was finally revealed in an article dated Nov. 8, 1978. In that piece, curiously titled "Grange Women Dressing Dolls," it stated the Grange "is the oldest farm organization in the country." The article further revealed "it is also a fraternal order which distinguishes it from other farm and rural groups." However, Grange membership was not exclusive to farmers. They also included "businessmen and businesswomen, community leaders, educators, students, senior citizens and housewives." Their official name is The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry.
The Civil War ended in 1865. For the country's leaders there was a lack of information how the farmers in the south had been impacted. The following year President Andrew Johnson commissioned Oliver Hudson Kelley to travel throughout the south and study the agricultural conditions of the region.
Upon completion of his mission, Kelly returned to Washington. He reported to Jackson of the carpetbaggers, middlemen and railroad barons taking advantage of the beleaguered southern farmers. A carpetbagger was a northerner who went to the South after the Civil War to profit from Reconstruction. Kelly was determined to develop a national organization to unify farmers across the country to improve their conditions.
On Dec. 4, 1867, the Grange was born. It began with a mission to provide educational opportunities for farmers to improve agricultural methods. The Grange promoted the use of new techniques and equipment. Over time it evolved into a major political force. Grange meetings were often filled with farmers who voiced complaints about the high rates charged by warehouses and railroads that handled their grain. They organized for state and federal controls over these economic issues that greatly affected their business.
The Grange played a key role in the creation of the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. This law called for the first federal regulations of railroads to control unfair shipping rates they were charging.
The Grange recognized the importance of including women. It organized special activities for its women members, helping to provide a support system for farm families. Children were also involved in the Grange. This led to the creation of the Future Farmers of America.
The Grange is still active in some parts of the county today. But not on Pine Island. During the last 1800s and early 1900s approximately one third of Americans worked in agriculture. Today only about 4 percent of Americans do. Most farming today is controlled by corporations, who have their own political lobbies. The need for originations such as the Grange is not as critical in most individual's lives.
The reason for the title for that newspaper article on the Grange? The Salvation Army received many donated dolls with clothes that were soiled or not usable. The ladies of the Grange sewed new dresses so the Salvation Army could sell the dolls to raise money.
I hope the readers of this column enjoyed my April fool's article last week.
For more history of Pine Island, visit the Museum of the Islands, Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, 1-4 p.m.
The museum is conveniently located next to the Pine Island Library at 5728 Sesame Drive off Stringfellow Road. Call 239-283-1525.
Tim Knox is museum historian at the Museum of the Islands.