[Letter by Pennsylvania woman to her Officer son on the 1877 Great Railroad Strike.]. Maria C. Rudder.
[Letter by Pennsylvania woman to her Officer son on the 1877 Great Railroad Strike.]

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[Letter by Pennsylvania woman to her Officer son on the 1877 Great Railroad Strike.]

Idlewild [Hotel], Media, Pennsylvania, 1877. Autograph letter signed. 4 pp. Original envelope stamped in red. CONDITION: Very good, .5” tear along old fold on page 3; no losses to the text.

An engaging letter describing the Philadelphia City Troop's response to the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.

Writing from a hotel in suburban Philadelphia and addressing her “precious child” Louis D. Beylard (stationed at this time on the U.S.S. Trenton), Rudder describes actions taken by the “City Troop” (the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry) during the strike:

You will see by the newspapers which I send you, all about the rail-road troubles. Things have quieted down a good deal and the trains are now running through to Pittsburgh. Gov Hartranft and Gen Hancock having taken the first freight train through with a large military and they are still there. The City Troop is there also—it is said they have behaved well. On one occasion they met 14 miles this side of Altoona more than 200 strikers. I believe there were also 40 members of another company with the troop—these latter gave their arms to the strikers & said ‘we did not come here to shoot down laboring men’ & so there were the troops (35 in number) at the mercy of these wretches. They were told to give up their guns & Col. Snowden said they would not, but that they would not fire; they made the Troop go with them into the woods but they did not do them any harm. I had a letter from Mrs. Dillingham today, and she says that Harry Norris is still away with the Troop which is now in Pittsburg. Mr. Scott has never been at [?] since the trouble began, he stays night and day at the Depot. Cassatte stays at Pittsburgh. I don't think there will be any more trouble with the strikers en masse but do fear very much accidents to trains by mis-placed switches, obstructions, etc.

Like some of the individuals she describes here, Rudder also appears to have removed herself from the scene of the troubles, staying at the Idlewild Hotel in Media. Her mention of “Cassatte” may well be a reference to Alexander Johnston Cassatt (1839–1906), who beginning in 1871 served as superintendent of the Pennsylvania Railroad (later becoming a vice-president and then president of the company). Alexander Cassatte was the brother of artist Mary S. Cassatt (1844–1926).

The Great Railroad Strike of 1877 started on 17 July in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Workers for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad went on strike after the company reduced their wages twice over the previous year. The strikers refused to let the trains run until the most recent pay cut was returned to the workers. West Virginia's governor called in the state militia, which on the whole sympathized with the workers and refused to intervene—leading the governor to request aid from the federal government. While President Rutherford Hayes sent federal troops to several locations to reopen the railroads, the strike spread to other states including Ohio and Maryland, where violence erupted in Baltimore. In Pittsburgh and St. Louis strikers briefly gained control of the cities until federal soldiers reestablished order. In Chicago, over 20,000 people rallied in support of the strikers. The worst agitation took place in Newark—a major depot for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad. On 18 July strikers blockaded the railroad—refusing to let any trains pass. Governor Young quickly sent militia forces to the city, hoping to stem violence. By the end of August 1877, the strike was over mostly due to federal government intervention, the use of state militias, and the hiring of strikebreakers by the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Co.

REFERENCES: Great Railroad Strike of 1877 at ohiohistorycentral.org; Alexander Johnston Cassatt 1839–1906 at wikitree.com.

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