The Accidental Suffragist by Galia Gichon is a new Women’s Historical Fiction book, set to be released on June 1, 2021, published by Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing. It is currently available for pre-sale.
It’s 1912, and protagonist Helen Fox is a factory worker living in New York’s tenements. When tragedy strikes in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, Helen is seduced by the Suffragist cause and is soon immersed, working alongside famous activists.
As Helen’s involvement with the cause deepens, she encounters myriad sources of tension that test her perseverance: estrangement from her husband, who is blindsided by his wife’s sudden activism; ostracization by neighbors; unease at working side by side with wealthier suffragettes; and worry about her children as she leaves them to picket the White House in Washington.
The narrative spans World War One and concludes with the triumph of 1919. In a time when the obstacles for women, from any background, were insurmountable, Helen discovers her voice as an independent woman and dreams of equality in a male-dominated society.
January 1911. New York City. Lower East Side
HELEN FOX WALKED UP to her building, dodging wayward neighborhood boys chasing a stray dog, grabbing the last few moments of daylight. Before stepping over the onion peels and picked-over chicken carcasses on the sidewalk, she wrinkled her nose as a carted horse dropped manure in front of the building; she then hastened her way up the stairs. Pausing in the foyer, she raised her arms over her head to stretch her back from being hunched over a sewing machine all day at her job at McKee Button Factory. The closing bell still clanged in her ears. Nearly thirty years old, she wore a high-necked shirt tucked into a simple brown cotton skirt. She sighed as she saw the dust coating her clothing.
As she eased down the tight dark hallway, she almost didn’t stop at the mailboxes, giving them just her usual cursory glance. Then a bright white envelope in the slot marked with their apartment number caught her eye. Surprised, she reached for it, examined “Fox Family” written in swooping calligraphy. The return address was unfamiliar. She stood for a long moment just looking at the envelope. Feeling the weight of the paper in her hands, she started to get excited—something she didn’t feel very often. Something good was in this envelope. She looked over at the other mailboxes. Had her neighbors received one as well? No, but there was another envelope in her box. Two pieces of mail! This one was a bill and Helen’s heart sank. She knew that the doctor’s visit for Eleanor a few weeks ago would come back to haunt her. Putting both envelopes in her skirt pocket, she’d deal with them later. She could savor the heavy envelope later when the children were asleep. Her four chil- dren—Abigail, 12, Walter, 10, Claudia, 8 and Eleanor, 4—were waiting upstairs for her to start supper before her husband, Albert, came home. After climbing the stairs, she hesitated at the front door, stood straight, and tucked in the long brunette hairs that had fallen loose. Worry lines prematurely settled in her forehead and around her mouth.
“Hello Mama,” Abigail, her eldest, said and kissed Helen on the cheek as she entered the main area of their two-room apartment. The sofa sat in the center, doubling as Helen and Albert’s bed at night, with a small kitchen set against the wall by the window facing the street. Shelves holding plates and teacups hung above the limited counter. The only other furni- ture in the main room was a square wooden table with four mismatched chairs. The one bedroom, separated by a faded cream curtain with small flowers, had a bed where the children slept and a pine four-drawer dresser that held all the family’s clothing.
“How was your day?” Abigail asked.
Helen thought about the foreman at her factory, at the end of the day, who stood by the door, holding it open with his dirty gray boot, dangling a set of keys from his fingertips, grin- ning, and saying, “See you in the morning, ladies.” They’d been locked in the factory all day.
“Good, good, had a nice chat with Iris on the way home,” she said, squaring her shoulders, stroking the back of her neck, then walking over to a basin in the kitchen where she cleaned her hands to get the dirt out from under her fingernails. They didn’t need to know.
Abigail went back to the counter and resumed chopping celery for the supper stew.
“Ouch!” she cried out.
“What?” Helen rushed over. She grabbed Abigail’s arm and saw the blood.
“It’s ok. Just a nick,” Abigail reassured, covering the wound with the cloth from the counter.
“You must be more careful. That girl last week at the factory, you remember I told you? The one who cut off her finger. She still isn’t back to work. I heard she has an infection.” Helen fingered the doctor bill in her skirt pocket.
Helen composed herself and focused on Claudia and Eleanor; her eyes gleamed and mouth curved into a smile as she saw Claudia chopping potatoes for the stew and Eleanor, in the middle of the kitchen covered in black dust. She was pitching in, gathering coal from the storage area to heat their rooms. Helen walked over to her and patted her dress creating a black swirl.
“Let’s get you cleaned up little one.” Then she scooped her up in her arms, not caring that the dust was getting all over her as well.
Noises came from the street and Abigail stood by the grimy window, observing children standing on a stranded horse cart watching a game of stickball while drying laundry flapped over them on a clothesline between two buildings. They tightly clutched baskets filled with items foraged from the streets. None of them looked as if they had bathed in weeks; dirt smudged on foreheads, shirts untucked, uncombed hair.
Albert burst into the apartment, “I got a few more guys to come to our next meeting. It’s a great start.” The children all crowded around him by the front door, eager to hear his update.
“Papa, Joe at school said you spoke to his father,” Walter said.
“Did he say he was going?”
“Don’t know. He said he didn’t want any trouble. Are you in trouble?”
“Nah. Not at all.”
“Please tell me the owners don’t know yet what you’re doing. If you lose your job … the can in the closet has even fewer coins,” Helen stated. For weeks now, Albert had been coming home late from attending union meetings at his factory job and was now furtively organizing a group.
“Stop your worrying, Helen. We’ll be fine. Change is coming and we can’t stop it!” he bellowed, taking off his boots, durable workwear coat, and flat cap. He had hazel eyes from his English ancestors, a full head of chestnut hair that he slicked back with pomade every morning and still stood lean and tall even though he spent countless hours hunched daily over heavy machines in the garment factory.
About the Author:
Widely quoted in The New York Times and more, Galia Gichon spent nearly ten years writing financial research for top investment banks before launching Down-to-Earth Finance, a top personal financial advising firm in New York.
Galia is the author of My Money Matters, a personal finance book which received notable press from the New York Times, TODAY Show, CNN, Newsweek, Real Simple and more. Galia Gichon consistently leads seminars for Barnard College where she has taught for 13 years, and other organizations. She is an avid angel investor focusing on women-led and impact startups and actively counsels startups through accelerators.