Women of the Grange: Mutuality and Sisterhood in Rural America, 1866-1920

By Donald B. Marti | Go to book overview

Grange, told the National Grange Monthly in 1918 that she had spent that summer doing "strenuous work on the soil" as a "farmerette." She had lived in a house provided by a "philanthropically inclined lady of Boston" with other young women who were mostly students and graduates of Smith, Vassar, Boston University, and other colleges. They "wore uniforms consisting of khaki bloomers and middy blouses" when they went out to help neighboring farmers. The farmers had been doubtful at first, she recalled, but had come to appreciate their help. She urged Grangers to encourage the farmerettes because educated young women who had satisfying experiences on the land would bring favorable impressions of farmers and farming back to their usual circles.62

The Order's interest in farmerettes probably extended little beyond that one woman and her article. But Grangers found many occasions to say that women were proving themselves in new ways during the war. A New Jersey woman made that point in a talk to her Pomona Grange by quoting an Englishman who said that women's war efforts proved that they could do "anything with practice." She added that war experiences had ended "the delusion of ages, that woman's work must consist only in the performance of household duties." Discounting old claims to distinctiveness further, she doubted that "any great reform will come at once with the inauguration of woman suffrage." Women's votes would not dramatically elevate public life. Their enfranchisement would only be "one step" in the progress of democracy, but it would alleviate "sex antagonism" by ending an injustice that had long embittered women.63

The argument for equal suffrage, and about women's rights more generally, might have taken new directions in the Grange after that. Some familiar ideas were being challenged. But, instead, the debate stopped because Grangers, like most other suffrage advocates, thought that the nineteenth amendment had settled the question. They later offered occasional suggestions about ways of encouraging women to use the franchise but were generally content to close the file on equal suffrage. After more than forty years of debate, most of them had come to accept a standard justification for the reform. It was a matter of right, a clear implication of the Order's enlightened tradition, and a prerequisite for other reforms. Emphases varied, but the standard argument was straightforward and familiar. Seeing no need to consider it further, Grange women turned increasingly to home economics, a rubric that covered a wide range of domestic and civic aspirations. It would be the great focus of Grange women's activity for the next half-century.


NOTES
1.
Nordin, Rich Harvest, 193; Woods, Knights of the Plow, 168-170 recognizes that the "early Grange was not a leader in promoting women's suffrage," and

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Women of the Grange: Mutuality and Sisterhood in Rural America, 1866-1920
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Women's Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Notes 13
  • 1- Graces, Lecturers, and The Changing "Appearance Of Equality" 19
  • Notes 31
  • 2- Teachers, Farmers, and Famous Grangers 35
  • Notes 51
  • 3- Literary Entertainment 55
  • Notes 69
  • 4 - Drudgery and Home Economics 73
  • Notes 85
  • 5- Women's Committees 89
  • Notes 102
  • Notes 120
  • 7- Remaining Tasks and Recent Changes 125
  • Notes 138
  • Conclusion 141
  • Note on Sources 145
  • Index 153
  • About the Author 159
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