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Kelley, Oliver Hudson (1826–1913)

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Minnesota Historical Society Press
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Oliver H. Kelley

Oliver H. Kelley, c.1875.

Oliver Hudson Kelley was a "book farmer," a man who had learned what he knew about agriculture from reading rather than from direct experience. In 1867, he helped found the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the nation's largest agricultural fraternity.

Born in Boston, he arrived in St. Paul via steamboat in 1849, the year Minnesota was established as a territory. The following year he moved to Itasca, a small town near present-day Elk River. Kelley was a progressive farmer, anxious to adopt the newest methods and to procure the newest equipment. He built one of the first frame barns north of St. Anthony and planted the first timothy hay. He installed an elaborate irrigation system on his farm and experimented with a variety of fruits and vegetables. He was a born leader, active in local agricultural societies and dedicated to ensuring that the area's new farmers benefited from each others' experiences.

In 1864, Kelley became a clerk for the US Bureau of Agriculture. For two years, he divided his time between Minnesota and Washington, DC. In 1867, on a bureau visit to the South, the idea of a national farmers' organization first occurred to him. "Encourage them to read and think; to plant fruits and flowers,—beautify their homes; elevate them; make them progressive," he wrote in a letter to a friend. "I long to see the great army of producers in our country, turn their eyes up from their work; stir up those brains, now mere machines ... set them to think,—let them feel that they are human beings, and the strength of the nation, their labor honorable, and farming the highest calling on earth."

On December 4, 1867, Oliver Kelley and six of his associates from the US Bureau of Agriculture founded the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry. Within two years, Minnesota had forty Grange chapters and a state organization, and Granges were in the works in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.

The Grange was, in Kelley's mind, both a social organization and an advocacy group. He wrote newspaper articles that were increasingly critical of manufacturing and processing monopolies that fixed prices at rates unfair to farmers and of railroads with exorbitant freight rates. As its influence grew, so did the Grange's membership. By the end of 1873, there were 379 chapters in Minnesota and about 9,000 across the country, with a total membership of almost 700,000. As of 2007, the National Grange had 300,000 members from 3,600 branches in 37 states.

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The Minnesota Historical Society. Oliver H. Kelley Farm.
http://sites.mnhs.org/historic-sites/historic-sites/oliver-h-kelley-farm

The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry.
http://www.nationalgrange.org

Related Audio

MN90: Home of the Grange | Details

Related Images

Oliver H. Kelley
Oliver H. Kelley
Temperance Baldwin Lane Kelley (Mrs. Oliver H. Kelley)
Temperance Baldwin Lane Kelley (Mrs. Oliver H. Kelley)
First farmhouse, Oliver Kelley farm, Sherburne County
First farmhouse, Oliver Kelley farm, Sherburne County
National Grange founders button
National Grange founders button
Oliver H. Kelley
Oliver H. Kelley
Oliver Kelley home marker, Sherburne County
Oliver Kelley home marker, Sherburne County
Oliver Kelley house, restored
Oliver Kelley house, restored

Turning Point

On December 4, 1867, Oliver Kelley and six of his associates from the US Bureau of Agriculture start the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, which becomes the nation's largest agricultural fraternity.

Chronology

1849

Oliver Hudson Kelley arrives in St. Paul from Boston.

1851

Kelley's wife Lucy dies, as does their only daughter.

1852

Kelley marries Temperance Baldwin Lane, another Boston native.

1864

Kelley becomes a clerk for the US Bureau of Agriculture.

1867

On December 4, Oliver Kelley and six of his bureau associates found the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry.

1873

At year's end, there are 379 Grange chapters in Minnesota and about 9,000 across the country.