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September 19th, 2012 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Home on the Grange

What's a grange?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall

In cycling the highways and byways surrounding Portland, I’ve run across several old buildings with names like “Tigard Grange” or “Milwaukie Grange.” What’s a grange? Were these the pioneers’ casinos?

—Lance Legstrong

Very funny. Lance is referring to plans to build a non-tribal casino near Portland, which may be called “The Grange,” even though it’s not likely to have very much in common with the fraternal organization known as the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry.

That’s right, Lance: Just for being a wisenheimer, you’re about to get lesson in 19th-century U.S. agrarian history. You’re welcome.

After the Civil War, a government clerk named Oliver Kelley wanted to find a way for North and South to pull together. Because at the time over half the U.S. population were farmers, Kelley decided the shared misery of trying to scratch a meager living from the hard and barren earth could be the common ground he sought, and in 1867 founded an order kind of like the Masons, but for farmers.

In addition to a secret handshake and schmoozing opportunities, the Grange provided farmers with political clout, lobbying for issues like rural mail delivery. The Grange also took up causes that would later be called “progressive,” like women’s suffrage (yay!) and temperance (boo!), and, unusually for the time, admitted women as full members.

These days, farmers make up just 2 percent of the U.S. population, and Grange membership is down 80 percent from its peak of 1.5 million. Join up if you want—technically, you have to be sponsored by a current member, but they’ll take anybody who shows interest.

Meanwhile, there’s at least some life left in the Grange—it threatened to sue the casino folks over the name last week. Better not tell them that ZZ Top’s “La Grange” is about a whorehouse.

 
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