The phrase stand and grow good was originally said to children in order that they develop an upright posture. It came to be humorously used when declining a proffered seat.
These are the earliest occurrences of the phrase that I have found, in chronological order:
1-: From The Highmoor Fete, published in The Wigton Advertiser, and Journal of News (Wigton, Cumberland, England) of Saturday 23rd August 1862:
The fete annually given by the Wigton Volunteer Rifle Corps Band has been one of the most popular of the kind held in the country […].
[…] The gathering this year was held on Monday last […]. A sort of open air concert took place soon after the band arrived on the ground, and selections of excellent music were very well played. The band was stationed in a sheltered erection, on the west side of the ground, and we noticed an improvement we suggested last year carried out, namely, the placing of a number of forms on the ground, so that those present might not be forced to “stand and grow good” during the performance.
2-: From the memorandum that one Mr. Joseph Sparkes Hall wrote about the shoemaker’s upright bench that he had contrived—published in Trade Unions Abroad and Hints for Home Legislation: Reprinted from a Report on the Amsterdam Exhibition of Domestic Economy (London: Harrison, 1870):
“The work [of a shoemaker] can be carried on, on the whole, better in a standing than sitting posture; but that certain parts of rounding the soles, lasting, or fitting may be done on the knees, a stool is added to the bench, which enables the workman to sit as long as he likes, and resume his standing position immediately after. I may, however, repeat to the young shoemaker advice which, perhaps, he has often heard before—
“‘Stand and grow good.’”
3-: From The Nantwich Guardian (Nantwich, Cheshire, England) of Wednesday 24th January 1883:
We have been favoured, says the Midland Counties Herald, with a communication from a well-known fungologist, Mr. C. B. Plowright, of King’s Lynn, in which he answers a question often asked by observant farmers—“Why mildew attacks wheat in the hollows of fields and not on the hills?” Mr Plowright says:—“[…] Laid wheat is almost certain to be more mildewed than that which stands erect. Possibly this is the origin the saying, ‘Stand and grow good,’ which has come to be used in some parts of this country when a person is asked to be seated, but declines to so.”
4-: From Cursed by a Fortune, by the English novelist George Manville Fenn (1831-1909)—as published in the Clifton Society (Bristol, Bristol, England) of Thursday 9th April 1896:
“Go on ahead then, dad; I’m listening.”
“Sit down then, Claud.”
“Rather stand, guv’nor; stand and grow good, ma.”
“Yes, my dear, do then,” said Mrs. Wilton, smiling at her son fondly. “But listen now to what papa says; it really is very important.”
5-: From Sports, Pastimes and River Gossip, by ‘Trifler’, published in The Maidenhead Advertiser (Maidenhead, Berkshire, England) of Wednesday 4th August 1897:
As I anticipated, large numbers availed themselves of the opportunity to view the regatta and Venetian Fête from Mrs. de Courcy Bower’s beautiful grounds at the Fishery. All that was needed to ensure the complete comfort of the ladies was seating accommodation. In our youthful days we were advised to “stand and grow good.” I am afraid this was not the effect produced on some of the fair sex who stood for hours on Mrs. de Courcy Bower’s lawns and who, when they sat down on one or two of the garden seats, were told by someone “clothed in a little brief authority” that they must get up and walk about as they were not allowed to sit on the front lawn!
6-: From Topics of the Day, published in The Advertiser (Adelaide, South Australia) of Monday 11th April 1904:
“May I sit down? No? Well, I’ll stand and grow good.” These words were spoken by a man who was charged at the Adelaide Police Court on Saturday morning with being a pauper lunatic.
7-: From Tit Bits from Aunt Tabitha, published in The Gadfly (Adelaide, South Australia) of Wednesday 12th June 1907:
An Australian, studying noise in the Kaiser country, writes:—“We’ve been twice to the opera, but, as we were in the highest gallery, didn’t enjoy it much. The crowd was immense, and the strain of looking down all the time gave me a stiff neck for days after. […] I have decided to go less often and in better seats in future, but concerts and things do run away with the pfennigs. We pay something like Is. 8d. for standing room, and twice as much for a seat. There is plenty of standing and growing good among us students.”
8-: From The Queenslander (Brisbane, Queensland) of Saturday 16th May 1908:
One of the newest theories—and they are of mushroom-like growth—is that half the ills of the present day are due to the pernicious habit of sitting. In one’s youthful days facetious nurses had a playful way of binding us “stand and grow good,” but it is new and disturbing advice to eschew the sitting posture. One cannot quite see the connection between it and influenza, for example, nor associate the arm-chair with diphtheria. However, we are assured that sitting in [misprint for ‘is’] a dangerous habit, and should be avoided no less than ill-ventilated rooms, and other places where germs congregate. When we are not standing, it seems, we ought to be lying prone on the floor, and in order that we may obtain sufficient rest this latter posture should be assumed every two hours. If this theory spreads and we become convinced that we are imperilling our health by sitting, some curious effects will be brought about. Imagine going into a bank, for example, and finding a considerable number of the staff stretched upon the floor, or having to pay a round of calls either standing bolt upright or lying at full length! As one could not well recline at the theatre, in church, in restaurants, or in trains, in omnibuses, or cabs, it is obvious that entertainments would have to be differently planned, social life considerably altered, and travelling methods and public vehicles completely changed if we ever arrived at the conclusion that it was impossible to sit and be healthy. But no doubt this, like many modern theories, is intended rather for the “feeble folk” than for the average healthy person. The world has gone on for thousands of years without these queer notions, and is hardly likely to adopt all of them now. In the first place, it would monopolise all our time; in the second, one theory is apt to clash with another, making both impracticable by the conscientious disciple.—“Lady’s Pictorial.”
9-: From The Clipper (Hobart, Tasmania) of Saturday 14th November 1908—this newspaper was the “Official Labor Journal of Tasmania”:
It is good to write of Franklin Labor matters, because we are not ‘standing and growing good;’ we are just getting Labor into a solid jog trot, with a promise of a quick gallop before next election time.
10-: From The Critic (Adelaide, South Australia) of Wednesday 5th February 1913:
TENNIS AT THE OVAL.
Beautiful weather made the brief tournament between the British Isles and South Australia a delightfully pleasant function. There was a splendid attendance throughout the day. Had any enterprising caterer arranged to supply a light luncheon, just tea and cake, they would have done very well, as it was, everyone had to rush up to town, and there was a hopeless overflow at all the tea shops, caused by such an inundation […]. In the matter of seats, too, the attendance exceeded the supply, and although we all know the old adage “stand and grow good,” it is a very tiring performance.
11-: From My Own Past (London, New York, Toronto and Melbourne: Cassell and Company, Ltd, 1915), by the British author Maude Ffoulkes (née Craven – 1871-1949)—Context: she is an actress at Drury Lane Theatre, London; Augustus Harris (1852-1896) is the stage manager:
I was rather scared by the personality of Sir Augustus Harris, whose moods were variable […]. I can see him as if it were yesterday, seated in the centre of the stage, issuing his short, sharp commands, and occasionally emphasising them with a thud of his heavy stick. Nothing escaped his keen eyes, and woe betide the luckless offender who happened to incur his wrath.
“Can’t you move, Miss?” he would shout. “You’re not here to stand and grow good!”