I found this thread, and as a junkie for useless facts, I couldn't resist!
A little bit of research led me to http://www.squidoo.com/learn-to-do-granny-square-crochet
, which says that the early granny squares were adapted from more complex and intricate patterns from Europe when settlers came to the new world. According to this source, granny squares were designed to be simple and useful, because that was what was necessary for that time.
Also, according to this site: http://page63.blogspot.com/2010/04/history-of-granny-square.html
, in the Victorian era, they were known as "Patchwork Squares." I couldn't find any more info about why they're now called Granny Squares.
Using my University's Library website and JSTOR, I found an article with an...interesting quote about Victorian abortions: "Abortion was often done by a woman who goes under some such name as "granny" or some other colloquial name and who uses crochet hooks generally or a knitting needle." I'm not saying it could be related to the topic at hand or not, but that is the earliest connection I could find between crochet and the word "granny." Make of it what you will, I just thought it might be something interesting to think about. The article was Women and Abortion in Victorian and Edwardian England
by Patricia Knight, if anyone wants to look it up.
This is where I might have struck gold, though:
I found another article in a publication called The Decorator and Furnisher
, published in 1889 that describes what might be the burgeoning granny square. It's a Dear-Abby type article, and the reader sent in a question inquiring about a new way to crochet table covers, quilts, and pillows. The reader says she has heard of a type of crochet which she calls "the daisy device," (get ready for this quote; it's a long one)
"we will simply say "the daisy" device in crochet is begun in the center of the daisy with a chain of twelve or more stitches, the chain joined, and worked on the ring thus formed is a row in long or tripple crochet stitches, each long stitch divided by a chain stitch. Then worked in the little circular mat thus perfected is a succession of loops about an inch in length in chain stitch, and as each loop is made the work is turned, and in each Stitch of the chain up to the central stitch is worked a long stitch; in the central stitch is worked five long stitches, and a single stitch in each chain, stitch continued to the last stitch in the loops. This gives a petal-like effect to the work, and when all the loops are finished the effect is that of a field daisy, each successive loop slightly overlapping the preceeding. Hence the name given to the pattern of the work; A chain is now worked all around joining the petals; and the corners are filled in with the trefoil pattern, or otherwise, to form squares. The squares are then sewed together, and lace of daisy pattern borders the spread."
It's a lot to read through and make sense of, but it basically states that a big fancy square is made with the design of a daisy in the center. The reader asks the writers their opinion on this form of crochet, and they present "an idea of our own in the matter of the crochet lace set, is in patterns of small blocks or squares about eight inches each way...these joined alternately for the coverlet and pillow spreads, and finished with a border to match the design." Unfortunately there wasn't an illustration to go along with this article, but that sounds like it could be a starting step for granny square designs. These fancy-shmancy daisy squares could be part of what influenced settlers over in America around that time to make simple, yet effective crochet squares.
Whew. That was quite a bit of research.
I tend to go a bit overboard when I find something really interesting. *^_^*
Interesting side note: In my search, I found an article about women in rural Andalusia, Spain. Quote: "Creating marvels with a crochet hook or knitting needles is a ground on which they can compete with or outdo city women." Not-for-nothin', but I thought that was a neat little tidbit of info. I don't know about you guys, but I can relate to that sentiment. Don't we all feel like our handmade items are far superior than to those store-bought, mass-market products?