In the "good old days" of early New England the people acted in communities. The original New England "towns" were true communities; that is, relatively small local groups of people, each group having its own institutions, like the church and the school, and largely managing its own affairs. Down through the years the town meeting has persisted, and even to-day the New England town is to a very large degree a small democracy. It does not, however, manage all its affairs in quite the same fashion that it did two hundred years ago.
When the Western tide of settlement set in, people frequently went West in groups and occasionally whole communities moved, but the general rule was settlement by families on "family size" farms. The unit of our rural civilization, therefore, became the farm family. There were, of course, neighborhoods, and much neighborhood life. The local schools were really neighborhood schools. Churches multiplied in number even beyond the need for them. When farmers began to associate themselves together as in the Grange, they recognized the need of a strong local group larger than the neighborhood. A subordinate Grange for example is a community organization. Experience gradually demonstrated that if farmers wished to coöperate they must coöperate in local groups. Strong nation-wide organizations are clearly of great importance, but they can have little strength unless they are made up of active local bodies. Gradually, the community idea has spread over the country, in some cases springing up almost spontaneously, until to-day there is a very widespread belief among the farmers, as well as among the special students of rural affairs, that the organization and development of the local rural communities is the main task in conserving our American agriculture and country life. It is interesting to note that what is true in America is proving also to be true in other countries. In fact, the farm village life in Europe and even in such countries as China is taking on new activities, and it is being recognized that the improvement of these small units of society is one of the great needs of the age.
Professor Sanderson, in this book, has attempted to indicate just what the community movement means to the farmers of America. He has brought to this task rather unusual preparation. In turn, a graduate of an agricultural college, a scientist of reputation, Director of an agricultural experiment station, Dean of a college of agriculture, he has had a wide, varied and successful experience in various states. He finally arrived at the conviction, however, that the most important field of work for him lay in dealing with the larger phases of country life, and he gave up administrative work for further preparation in the new field. In his position as Professor of Rural Organization in the College of Agriculture at Cornell University, he has been unusually successful, both as investigator and as teacher. He speaks as one who knows the farmers and not as an outsider, and also as a thorough student.
This book therefore is sent out with a good deal of confidence. It deals with one of the most important of the rural topics that can be discussed these days. It points out fundamental principles and indicates practical steps in applying principles.