Uncle Robert, [. . .] I have a theory that every woman ought to know how to earn her own living. [A] great amount of sin and misery springs from the weakness and inefficiency of women. [E]very woman should have some skill or art which would insure her at least a comfortable support. I believe that there would be less unhappy marriages if labor were more honored among women.

Iola proclaims these feminist opinions in Chapter XXIV after enduring and escaping slavery and reuniting with her mother and while living in the North with her uncle, Robert. Iola firmly believes that women should pursue their own interests and develop unique, marketable skills. She calls for individualism, a fundamental principle in the United States, and she likewise endorses feminism to a degree. In the early days of the country’s development, marriage was considered more of an economic transaction than a romantic union. Women’s dowries were essential to a marriage, and a husband and wife’s relationship was deemed somewhat of a commodity in which men possessed, or owned, women. In this sense, women were subjugated. Women at the time were expected to remain in the home and to reign over only the designated domestic responsibilities. This social custom stemmed from the Cult of True Womanhood, earlier ideological beliefs that restricted women’s roles to the domestic circle.

In questioning women’s presence in the workplace, Harper seems to invert the idea of true womanhood. That is, she challenges the prescribed gender role allotted to women that essentially and narrowly defined their work as solely housework. Harper reconsiders women’s ability to contribute financially to married and family life. Iola contends that women should attain their own goals outside of the home and that such self-affirmation will enhance and strengthen the bonds of marriage. Iola goes so far as to ascertain that women’s inability to work beyond the domestic unit does not merely enervate or weaken marriage but is also equivalent to committing a “sin.” Therefore, Iola equates keeping women inside the home to complete specific domestic tasks with moral corruption.