The Accidental Suffragist
Midwest Book Review
The Accidental Suffragist
The Accidental Suffragist is set in 1911 and follows New York factory worker Helen Fox, whose
life trajectory is consumed by the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This event brings with it a
newfound political awareness and participation in the blossoming Suffragist movement. This, in
turn, results in estrangement from her husband, prejudice from former friends and existing
neighbors, and tough decisions surrounding putting politics ahead of family.
Throughout World War One, as the story progresses, Helen finds her activism and revised
purpose in life receives steady opposition, bringing with it many dangers beyond that of
confronting the authorities and status quo.
Galia Gichon does more than recap well-known historical events. Her novel delves into Helen's
quandaries and mind as she steadily moves into the Suffragist world that brings with it an
acknowledgement of her role in past suffering and events to come: “Did we let her go to work
too easily? Remember when she came to us and told us about the job?” Helen asked. “Helen, we
barely had enough for food,” Albert reminded her. “Besides, other girls in the building were
going to the factories, too.” “We didn’t even put up a fight. Not every family sent their twelve-
year-old daughter to the factories.”
Helen's personal calling is to gain women the freedom to vote, for reasons of her own. When
she faces a pregnancy in the midst of her efforts, life threatens to change and come crashing
down around her once again.
For many, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire opened the door to not just new ideas about
labor and women's rights, but personal conundrums over how their roles and lives were
changing not just for themselves, but for their daughters and generations to follow.
As her activism moves from personal environment to trips to Washington and associations with
high-level Suffragists, Helen discovers new ways of decision-making and thinking that hold
opportunities for revised freedoms not only for her and fellow women, but for the men around
Readers interested in a story that does more than recap the sad events surrounding this era's
labor and women's movement relationships will find The Accidental Suffragist brings to life the
impact and changes on families and marriages that were sparked by the Triangle Shirtwaist
More so than most fictionalized accounts, The Accidental Suffragist holds a compelling and
intriguing approach that readers will find enlightening and involving. It's highly recommended
even for those well aware of the changing politics of the times, early women's rights
movements, and the factory fire's lasting impact.