The predominate theme of this chapter of A People's History is the same as the rest of the book. Zinn traces the history of women's roles from the colonial period to the Civil War, arguing that women were one of many groups in the United States, along with ordinary whites, African-Americans, and Native Americans, that suffered oppression during this period. He claims that women were assigned a "special status...something akin to that of a house slave." Yet because women were deemed so important to the family, and particularly in the raising and socialization of children, they also received a "special patronization...which could slip over into treatment as an equal." He observes that Native American societies frequently afforded women more active roles than their European counterparts, and emphasizes the obedience and deference demanded of women in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, particularly as part of the so-called "cult of domesticity, or "true womanhood." He narrates the struggles of women who attempted to break into the professional world and their involvement in, even leadership of, the numerous reform movements of the nineteenth century. He concludes with the words of the Declaration of Sentiments from the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 as well as the famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech by Sojourner Truth to emphasize both the depth of the oppression that women faced as well as the courage of their struggles against it. So this chapter, overall, is another account of the oppression of one group of people by what Zinn will later call the "establishment."
Source: Zinn, A People's History of the United States, 102-123.