Book Review: The Accidental Suffragist by Galia Gichon

The Accidental Suffragist by Galia Gichon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Accidental Suffragist by Galia Gichon is a historical fiction account of the women’s suffrage movement, with the story following the perspective of a factory worker named Helen. To brush up on actual history for a moment: the women’s suffrage movement was the fight for women to have the right to vote in the United States. This fight would take decades, and it met a lot of opposition from both men and women who were not supporters of the cause, arrests and mistreatments in prison, contentions within communities, and so on.

Some of the characters mentioned in this book are based on real-life people, with one being Alice Paul who was an American studying in England in the 1900s and there joined the British suffragists. She would later return to the US and employ the same tactics she learned from her British counterparts, which would get her arrested and jailed multiple times, along with other women suffragists. Another is President Woodrow Wilson who would eventually support the Susan B. Anthony Amendment granting female suffrage.

Now back to our main character: Helen. Helen is what you would deem just your regular person–she’s a mother and wife, she works at a factory sewing buttons to help support the family’s meager income, she’s quiet and unassuming (at first, anyway), and she’s just trying her best to do what’s best for her family. When a tragic incident at another factory happens, Helen is devastated with the loss of a family member. This is when she gets approached by one of the suffragists who offers Helen a job to work at the movement’s office. Soon, Helen becomes more and more involved with the Suffragists, but her dedication to the movement will test her relationship with her husband Albert, who is also grappling with his grief and the judgmental eyes of their neighbors and friends who don’t wholly approve of Helen’s new job, and with her role as mother to her children, who will have to get used to their mother’s absences and long workdays. But Helen believes in the cause, and she believes the importance of women’s voices being heard–especially because she wants her daughters to inherit a world that is better than the one they’re currently in.

From leaving her home for the first time to join the Suffragists’ march to being arrested and imprisoned and tortured for days (what she would call the “Night of Terror”) to having to keep the cause alive during World War One while worrying about her soldier son and so on…Helen’s journey mirrored that of real-life suffragists and the sacrifices that they had to make for equality and the betterment of women’s place in society.

This book is fairly straightforward in its storytelling. It has no frills or bells and whistles; it doesn’t try to sensationalize history. Some parts felt a little dry, hence the 4 stars, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this book highlights a very significant time in history thereby making this an important read.

Helen may not think of herself as a superwoman in the world’s sense of the word, nor is she portrayed as some grand heroine, but she is a superwoman nevertheless. Because she is a reflection of the many unnamed, ordinary women who persevered to make the women’s right to vote happen.

I was given a free copy for review by the book’s publicist, but that does not affect in any way my honest opinion/review of this book.

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