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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn
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What are some key ideas in chapter 6 of A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn? 

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In chapter 6 of this book, titled "The Intimately Oppressed," the author examines the status of women in early America. He explains how and why their status was inferior.

Women could not vote. (This would not be changed until the early twentieth century.) Women could not own property. Women who...

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In chapter 6 of this book, titled "The Intimately Oppressed," the author examines the status of women in early America. He explains how and why their status was inferior.

Women could not vote. (This would not be changed until the early twentieth century.) Women could not own property. Women who worked outside the home received only a fraction of the wages paid to a man for the same work. Women were barred from working as lawyers, doctors, or ministers. They did not attend college. In fact, it would have been difficult for most of them to attend college because of their high illiteracy rate. In these ways, women were subordinated to men.

Zinn points out that women enjoyed a higher status in other societies, which were typically "conquered" by Europeans. For example, many Indian tribes treated women much more equally.

Exploitation of women began in America from its inception. For instance, indentured servants were typically female, and their treatment was terrible. Enslaved black women received the most egregious treatment. Even women who were not servants or slaves faced tremendous hardships.

Women who had children out of wedlock were severely punished. The fathers of such children, however, were not penalized at all.

Occasionally, a strong woman emerged to challenge the status of women in colonial America. One such woman was Anne Hutchinson. She was put on trial and banished for challenging men's monopoly of power in the church and in society.

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Chapter Six of A People's History is entitled "The Intimately Oppressed." Zinn's focus in this chapter is on the systemic sexism that was fundamental to American society in the antebellum period. He claims that it is possible, reading "standard histories," to overlook "half the population of the country," meaning that these histories have focused primarily on men (102). He discusses the role of women in Anglo-American society, examining the ideological origins of women's roles by the nineteenth century. He discusses the so-called "cult of true womanhood" that emerged in the post-Revolutionary era. This ideology emphasized the piety, sexual purity, and submission expected of girls and women. He is especially interested in the emergence of feminist, or proto-feminist ideas that accompanied the rise of the abolition movement. The chapter finishes with quotes from two leading female activists, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose speech to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 demanded the right to vote for women, and Sojourner Truth, whose famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech, in Zinn's words, "joined the indignation of her race to the indignation of her sex" (122). The nineteenth century, though dominated by the "cult of true womanhood," also witnessed women's participation in a variety of reform movements. So it became a sort of touchstone for the movement for women's equality.

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