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Throughout most of the United States the farmer's sense of belonging to a community is rather vague. The villager has a definite idea of the village because it has a boundary, he can see it, and in many cases it is incorporated; but in most cases, outside of New England at least, the villager and the farmer have not thought of themselves as belonging to the same community. Farmers do, however, belong to many organizations which meet in the village and more and more farmer and villager mingle in the associations devoted to various special interests.

The farmer's loyalty has, therefore, been primarily to organizations rather than to the community as such, but as these different organizations have multiplied he has become increasingly aware that most of them, each in its own field, are devoted to the interests of the common good. Through the common interests of organizations in the life of all the people is arising a new conception of the community. As Professor E. C. Lindeman has well pointed out,[68] at the present time the community is more an association of groups than of individuals, and it is these groups and organizations which largely control community action. If we are to understand the relation of the farmer to his community, we can do so only by knowing the organizations and groups to which he belongs, for it is in them and through them that his loyalty to the community arises.

Vinland GrangeThe Vinland Grange Hall, built in 1884

_The Grange._--By all odds the strongest local organization of farmers throughout the northern and western states is the Grange, which is the local unit of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. For half a century, from the time of its organization in 1868 until 1920, it had a larger influence upon national legislation than any other organization of farmers, and it was largely through its efforts that many of the more important acts for the benefit of agriculture were passed by Congress.[69] The growth in membership and number of local granges in recent years testifies that the grange meets a real need in farm life. Its maximum membership was in 1875 when 858,050 members were paying dues to the National Grange. From then it declined to 106,782 members in 1889, but in the next thirty years it grew to approximately 700,000 members in 1919. State Granges are now organized in thirty-three states and there are approximately 8,000 local or subordinate granges. In the earlier years of its history there were many granges in the South, but since the decline in the '80's there have been practically no granges south of Virginia and Missouri.

Although the Grange is a secret order or fraternity, with a ritual similar to other fraternal orders, its membership is open to any one of good character, and the local granges frequently hold "open" meetings to which all the people of the community are invited. The strength of the Grange as a community organization is largely due to two factors: first, its broad program, and second, that it is a family organization. Both men and women are admitted to membership and in several states junior granges for the older children are numerous. Although the grange actively supports state and national legislation for the benefit of agriculture, it is strictly non-partisan in politics and is non-sectarian with regard to religion. In the earlier years it undertook to operate numerous coöperative enterprises, including many coöperative stores, and it was the failure of many of these which caused its sudden decline of membership in the late '70's. In recent years, although it has vigorously sponsored coöperation, it has favored independent coöperative organizations, having no organic connection with the grange, with the exception of grange insurance companies whose advantages are usually limited to grange members.

Possibly the greatest service of the Grange is its educational and social work. The "lecturer's hour" is a feature of every meeting, and in this hour a program planned by the lecturer is given by members of the grange, or outside speakers are invited to address it on topics of interest. These programs include both discussion of educational topics having to do with all phases of agriculture, home life, and civic affairs, but also music, recitations and other entertaining features. Special social evenings and suppers are held at frequent intervals and the young people often enjoy an informal dance after the regular grange meeting. The local grange, more than any other organization, provides a forum for the discussion of the problems of agriculture and country life, and is thus a powerful agency for the creation of public opinion on any matters of community concern. The management of its business and the participation in the lecturer's programs furnish the best opportunity for the development of leadership and for training in public speaking, so that the local Grange has been the means of discovering and training much of our best rural leadership.

For many years the attention of the Grange seemed to be directed chiefly toward the support of needed national legislation, but recently grange leaders have perceived that, like all such organizations, its permanent strength and influence depend more largely on the degree to which the local grange is a vital force in the life of its members and of its community. In a recent article on "The Future of the Grange," S. J. Lowell, Master of the National Grange, ably voices this point of view:

      "The farm people of America are better informed on all the great questions of the day; are pursuing better agricultural methods; are demanding better roads, better schools, better churches; are doing more effective teamwork for forward-looking projects; and in consequence are more valuable men and women and citizens because of the Grange influence of the past and its presence in their life to-day. Remove the Grange from America and there would be taken out of our progress of a half century one of the largest contributing factors.

      "It will be setting up a declaration contrary to the belief of some that exerting legislative influence, important as it is, is not the most valuable function of the Grange; that its coöperative activities, however they may have flourished, will not loom largest in the grange program of the future; that not even its efforts for state and national reform will be recorded as its greatest service to its day and generation. Rather we must estimate the Grange value of the future by its quiet, steady, unfaltering efforts, continued year after year, in thousands of local communities--many of them far removed from the busy activities of men--to bring the rural people together, to teach them the fundamentals of coöperation, of efficiency, of teamwork, of practical educational progress, and of the value of a forward-looking rural program, into whose accomplishments all the people of a locality may conscientiously enter.... This view of Grange service to rural America is apparent in the extent to which the community-betterment program has been taken up by subordinate granges in nearly every state. Though a secret organization--a fraternity in fact as well as in name--the Grange is more and more making of itself an overflowing institution, seeking to render actual benefits to its immediate home locality. Hundreds of live Granges this year are carrying out some form of community improvement along a great variety of directions."[70]

He then goes on to give a brief glimpse of the variety of these community enterprises. In Massachusetts the State Grange has for several years had a committee which awards annual prizes for the best community improvement work done by the local granges, and this has stimulated a lively interest in community activities.

Although the Grange is primarily a farmers' organization, yet where the local grange meets in the village, and particularly in the older states, a considerable number of the members are village people, so that the Grange represents the life of the whole community. On the other hand, in many neighborhoods which are at some distance from a village center, the Grange hall may be located in the open country, its membership is composed wholly of farmers, and it is solely a class organization. No studies are available to show the proportion of Granges which meet in villages or in the open country and the effect which this has upon the relation of the Grange to the community, but it may be safely asserted that, as is the case with the church and the school, the Grange tends to meet in village centers as a matter of convenience to the largest number of its members, and that, as indicated by Mr. Lowell, it is coming to recognize its responsibility for the general improvement of the community as a whole.

_Other Farmers' Organizations._--Throughout the South and in Kansas and Nebraska the Farmers' Educational and Coöperative Union is the leading farmers' organization, but it is chiefly devoted to coöperative business enterprises and does but little for the education or social life of its members, who are usually all men. The same may be said of the Society of Equity, which is strongest in Wisconsin, Kentucky, and South Dakota. In Michigan, although the Grange is strong, the Gleaners have a considerable membership.

In many states, particularly where the grange is not well established, farmers' clubs have been organized. In some cases local conditions make clubs feasible where it would be difficult to enlist a large enough part of the community to make a grange equally successful. In some cases such clubs are open to farmers only; in others they include the whole family; while in recent years many farm women's clubs have been organized. Whether such clubs should be for the whole family, or for men or women only, is largely a local question depending upon the social usages and homogeneity of the population. In Wisconsin and Minnesota family clubs have been most successful. It is doubtful whether this would be equally true in the South. In the South such local clubs have been the local units of the extension work in agriculture and home economics. Where for any reason it is not possible to include the whole community in a club, several clubs may be organized, each including a congenial membership, as is now the case with women's clubs in cities, and these may then be federated for community purposes.

_Lodges._--In most rural villages will be found one or more lodges of fraternal orders, such as the Masons, Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, Maccabees, etc., with the corresponding orders of women's auxiliaries. The place and influence of lodges in the life of the rural community have been strangely neglected by students of country life, and we have no means of evaluating their place in the rural community. Not infrequently the regular meetings and special parties and banquets held by these orders form a large part of the social life of the village. In other cases the meetings are but poorly attended and the lodge is maintained chiefly for its insurance benefits. In some of the larger villages and towns the larger and more prosperous lodges have game rooms and reading rooms attached to their halls, so that they serve as club rooms for their membership. Usually the membership is more largely composed of village people, but a considerable number of farmers maintain their membership, even though they do not attend regularly, and in exceptional cases the membership is largely composed of farm people. It is obvious that the lodge as a secret order is devoted to the interests of its own membership and usually it has no definite program of work for the benefit of the whole community. Yet it must be recognized that the assistance rendered by the lodge to its members in sickness and to their families when in distress of any kind, is a considerable asset to the welfare of the community and is a powerful influence in promoting that spirit of brotherhood upon which all community life depends. Usually the lodges actively support and participate in any community activities in which they may appropriately take part, such as Memorial Day or Fourth of July celebrations, community Christmas trees and other festival occasions. The churches, or at least the ministers, sometimes feel that the social life of the lodges absorbs so much of the time and interest of their members as to prevent their activity in church work, which attitude has often obtained between the church and Grange, but it is a question whether this is not often due to the failure of the church to provide such activities as will command the loyalty of the people, and, on the other hand, not infrequently the leaders in lodge work are also most active in the churches. To the extent that the lodges seem self-centered and make no direct contribution to community improvement, this is doubtless due to the lack of any means whereby their support may be enlisted in a program of community betterment. The place of the lodge in the community is much like that of a fraternity in a college or university; its primary obligation is to its own membership, but when enlisted in any activity for the common welfare it furnishes one of the best means for developing the community spirit of its members, and its participation is a means of strengthening its own organization.

_The Village Band._--A good village band is one of the most effective agencies for promoting community spirit and sociability. The village merchants have also found that it is an economic asset, and in many country towns they contribute liberally for its support. A band concert every Saturday night, or twice a week, never fails to bring a crowd of people to town and it is a common sight to see the streets lined with automobiles of farm people who have come in to enjoy the concert and incidentally to do a little shopping and chat with each other and their village friends. Although it may be called by the name of the village, it is usually a community band, for farm boys who can play an instrument are always welcome and frequently form a considerable part of the membership. The community comes to have a real pride in even a moderately good band, and on holiday celebrations and other festival occasions it is an invaluable asset to community spirit. A crowd will always follow a band, for it exercises a sort of group leadership for which there seems to be no substitute.

In one small town in central New York the high school operates a moving picture show every Saturday evening, which is preceded by a band concert and part of the profits of the show goes to the support of the band. Thus the community finances and controls its own entertainment. Another small village in western New York had a fairly good band which had been playing in neighboring villages as the only means of securing an income, and was thus drawing trade of farmers from its own village to those where it played. The first enterprise of the community council which was formed there was to build a band stand and to see that the band was financed so that it played every Saturday night in the home town. In another case a community council was formed for the primary purpose of bringing the support of the whole community to a fine band which had struggled along for several years with little local appreciation.

Community orchestras are of equal value for indoor entertainments and give opportunity for the talent of the young women as well as the men. The community chorus or choral club has often taken the place of the old-fashioned singing school. If a good director can be secured he will always discover more vocal ability than has been suspected, and the people of many a rural community have been surprised at the musical works they have been able to produce under competent leadership.

The amount of music in a community and the public interest in its musical entertainments are among the most significant indices of its general culture and progressiveness. Where there is music there is life.

_The Fire Company._--One of the "most ancient and honorable" of the organizations of the village is the volunteer fire company. The fire company makes an appeal to the spirit of adventure and heroism common to all red-blooded young men and furnishes something of Professor William James' "moral equivalent of war." Its drills, exhibits and competitions develop the finest type of team work among its members, while its parties, festivals and entertainments for raising money are always occasions of note in the social calendar of the community. In the older parts of the country the firemen very frequently have a building with clubrooms on the second floor, which form a rendezvous for its members. Not infrequently many of the nearby farm boys belong to the fire company and pay their dues for its support so that they may enjoy its social advantages, although they may rarely have opportunity to do much actual fire-fighting. In several cases community houses have been built with one corner of the first floor constructed to house the fire equipment. In one village I found that the fire company had taken over an old hall, where it had clubrooms and was holding moving picture entertainments every Saturday evening to finance the building.

_The Women's Christian Temperance Union_ is by all odds the strongest non-sectarian organization of women in the rural communities of the United States. In the past it has been chiefly a reform organization and its persistent agitation was a large factor in the enactment of the Eighteenth Amendment to the federal constitution making prohibition national. Although prohibition is, as yet, by no means achieved, and there is still need of upholding and encouraging those charged with its enforcement, yet the primary purpose of the organization seems to be largely realized. In the past it has been chiefly a militant organization, although it has taken an active interest in problems of child welfare, education, recreation, social hygiene, and similar topics affecting home life. Its public speaking contests, picnics, suppers, and sociables have done much for the social life of many a rural community. If the fighting spirit of the past can be enlisted in a well-rounded program for social welfare in every community where there is a Union, this organization will continue to be a powerful factor in uniting the women in many a rural community.

_The Cemetery Association._--Finally, the influence of the Cemetery Association as a community organization, should not be overlooked. The "Friendship Village Married Ladies' Cemetery Improvement Sodality," which Miss Gale has made famous in her delightful stories of village life,[71] well illustrates the influences which have been started by many a cemetery association. Not infrequently the one thing which evinces some civic pride in an otherwise stagnant community is its well-kept cemetery. The condition of the cemetery is a good index of community spirit. When people neglect the resting place of their dead they are not apt to do much for the living. But once arouse a feeling of shame for such neglect and the effort to clean up and beautify the cemetery has often brought all elements of the community into a common loyalty as nothing else could do, and the satisfaction from such an achievement may sufficiently stir community pride as to encourage other enterprises.

The cemetery itself has a not inconsiderable influence in bringing about the integration of the rural community. In early days every farm had its own burying lot. Nothing is more pathetic than the abandoned burying lots--often two or three of them--on many a New England farm. In many cases rural neighborhoods have had a local cemetery by the country church or district school. These, too, are increasingly neglected. On the other hand the village cemetery is more largely used merely because more assurance is felt in its permanent maintenance. It needs no argument from history or from the customs of other lands, to show that the people who bury their dead in the same place are bound together by the most sacred ties, and that the cemetery which serves the whole community is one of its primary bonds.


[68] "The Community," p. 119. New York, Association Press. 1921.

[69] See T. C. Atkeson, "Semi-centennial History of the Grange." New York. Orange Judd Co.

[70] In "The Country Gentleman." Oct. 8, 1921, p. 17.

[71] Zona Gale, "Friendship Village"; "Friendship Village Love Stories"; "Peace in Friendship Village." New York. Macmillan Co.