In 1877, the population of Pittsburgh was approximately 120,000. It is estimated that 30,000 people—a full quarter of the city’s population—participated in The Great Strike and the rioting that ensued. Roughly half of the rioters were unemployed. This statistic points to the widespread participation of women, children, and adolescent boys in the strike, yet the privileged class that controlled the media at the time went to great lengths to portray the rioters as shiftless drifters, tramps and vagabonds. This portrayal masked the widespread outrage felt by average citizens, and served to marginalize their protest against The Pennsylvania Railroad Company. In fact, the most in-depth analysis of the 1877 crowd indicates that a broad cross-section of Pittsburghers actively participated in the riot at the Roundhouse—from members of the professional class to unskilled workers and homemakers to train operators. Moreover, of those arrested or indicted at the Roundhouse, more than three quarters were married and had family in the community.
Today, the media continues to craft biased representations of political and social opposition movements. With corporate donors bankrolling academic institutions as well as media outlets, many historians also find it convenient to reinforce erroneous representations in order to maintain the dominant power structure.