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Home » Gender Relations » Historically Significant Women of Iran and the Neighbouring Countries
 
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GENDER RELATIONS
Historically Significant Women of Iran and the Neighbouring Countries
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Last Updated: October, 2009
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1805-73 Politically Influential Maleka Jahan Khanum (Mahd-e Olya), Qajar Dynasty

Her official title was Mahd-e Olya "Sublime Cradle." She was grand-daughter of Fath 'Ali Shah, (1797-1834), wife of her cousin Mohammad Shah (1834-48) and mother of Nasser-ed-Din Shah (1848-96). She was one of the strongest women of the Qajar Dynasty. She yielded power from the Harem, once her son ascended the throne of Persia. She ensured the strengthening and survival of the Qajar nobility against the rivalries by many non-Qajars. She is characterized as an accomplished and cunning woman of some political gifts, strong personality. Her daughter, Malekzadeh Khanoom, married Mirza Taqi Khan Amir Kabir the reformist Prime Minister to Nasir al-Din Shah. Mahd-e Olya is accused of being involved in the murder of Amir Kabir. She was well educated, knew Arabic, was an accomplished calligraphist, and was well versed in literature. She is also rumered to have had a relationship with Agha Khan Nouri who became the Prime Minister after Amir Kabirs assassination.She was disliked by her son Nasir al-Din Shah.
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Around 1850s Khadijeh Khanoom

Known as Mola Baji, was a companion of Shokooh Saltaneh, a wife of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar. Her title indicates that she was a private teacher to women at the court. Her daughter Bibi Khanoum wrote a very important feminist booklet that has survived.

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1814-1852 Tahirih Qurrat al-Ain Born in Qazvin

Born in Qazvin she was the eldest daughter of a prominent clergy. Fatima and her sister Marzieh received religious training and became masters in Persian literature, Arabic and Islamic studies. At the age of 14, she married her cousin, the son of Mulla Mohammed Taghi Borghani, one of the most famous Usuli religious leaders. Orthodox and dogmatic, the Usulis dominated the theological schools and strongly opposed all other schools of thought including Ahkbari and the latter Sheykhi. The latter demanded reforms and challenged the authority of Mujtahids (clergy). A close relative that was a Sheykhi supporter influenced the two sisters. In 1828, the young couple moved to Iraq to further their religious studies at Najaf and Karbala where many Sheykhi ulama (ulama means scholars) resided in exile. The long stay in Iraq introduced Fatima to others including Seyyed Kazem Rashti the most prominent Sheykhi supporter. She also became exposed to European politics and ideas, which was gaining influence in Middle East at the time. Later, she became familiar with ideology of Seyyed Mohammad Bab, Rashti's successor, whom she never met. Fatima joined Rashti who gave her the title of Qurrat al-Ain (roughly meaning apple of the eye) and eventually ended in the top leadership of the later Babi movement. Her actions alienated her family; she left her husband and children, started lecturing and openly supported the Babi movement. Amongst many reforms demanded by the Babi adherents' emancipation of women became a major issue. Though her actions were predominantly religious, her presence often without a veil in public debates created a stir even amongst the Babi and she often was forced to leave and move to another city. Her very strong presence in the movement initiated the formation of the first well-organized women's league in Iran. Many female members of the Royal court also supported Fatima who was known as "Tahireh" or "pure" by this time. In 1848, after the massive persecution of the Babi supporters, the remaining leaders gathered in a village called Behdasht. In the meeting Tahireh tore off her veil and demanded the emancipation of women. Her radical actions split the leadership; Tahireh herself was arrested by the authorities and sent into exile. She escaped a few days later after a failed attack on Naser al-Din Shah's life; she was captured in Tehran and along with other Babi leaders was executed in 1852. She was an accomplished poet a charismatic orator and well versed in Persian literature in addition to religious studies.

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Around 1840s, Mrs. Rashti

The wife of Seyyed Kazem Rashti the leader of the Sheykhi school, a religious movement that eventually lead to the formation of the Babi sect in the middle of the 19th century in Iran. She organized the women's league of the Babi movement and held regular meetings in her house. Several of the early female leaders of the Babi sect met at her house and then spread all around the country. She was a pioneer member of a women's society called Anjoman-i Mokhadarat Vatan (1903). The Babi were the first group that demanded improvement in the situation of women in Iran. Present at her meetings were Tahireh and her sister Marzieh, Khorshid Beygom Khanoom, with the mother and sister of Mulla Hussein Boushroyeh, the mother of Hadi Nahri, and Rustameh, the first militant female leader in the movement. All became pioneer Babi activists and some lost their lives.

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Around 1860s Bibi Khanoum Astarabadi

Author of the first feminist booklet She has produced the first feminist booklet criticizing the patriarchal society of her time. In her pamphlet "The Shortcomings of Men" she strongly criticizes the derogatory popular book "Educating Women" and concluded that the writer's understanding of keeping women in their place implied the total subjugation of women. Bibi and her mother belonged to generations of women who served the Royal women as educators. Her book has survived and is dated to 1896.

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1870s Anis al-doleh, Nasir al-Din Shah's Favourite Concubine, Qajar Dynasty

She became the most trusted woman in the Shah's harem and once accompanied the Shah on his trip to Europe. This was bitterly opposed by the clergy who deemed unsuitable for a Muslim woman to travel to a non-Muslim country. She was forced to come back to Tehran and did not depart for Europe.

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1884-1936 Taj Saltaneh, Qajar Dynasty

Daughter of Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar was a member of secret societies promoting reform and modernization in Iran. Her famous memoirs Khaterat Taj Saltaneh is very critical of the situation in Iran at the time and is regarded as an early feminist writing. She was the subject of admiration by many men including Aref Ghazvini the famous activist, musician and poet of the period.
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1875-1925 Malekeh-Jahan, "Queen of the World", Qajat Dynasty

Mohammad Ali Shah's cousin and queen, daughter of Prince Kamran Mirza Na'eb-Saltaneh (Nasser-ed-Din Shah's son), mother of Ahmad Shah Qajar. She, like her predecessor queens and many others of the Qajar princesses, was a strong presence. She was forced into exile with her husband. After Mohammad Ali Shah's death, she was able to keep the family together in exile in Europe.
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1895-1925 Mohtaram Eskandari

Daughter of Prince Ali Khan Qajar (Mohammad Mirza Eskandari) she was married to her teacher and educator Mirza Ali Khan Mohaqqeqi and was fluent in French. A pioneer feminist with socialist ideas she was one of the founding members of the Anjoman-i Nesvan -i, Vatankhah (Society of the Patriotic Women). The society organized classes for illiterate women and also published a journal with the same name. The popularity of the publication forced the fundamentalists to produce a pamphlet titled Makr-i Zanan (Wiles of Women). Mohtram and her colleagues purchased many copies and burnt them publicly in Sepah Square a busy square in Tehran. She was arrested and became the first woman to be jailed for public disturbance in modern history. She was also a member of the famous Adamyat (Humanity) Society that was very active prior to and during the Constitutional Revolution (1906). She was a contributing writer to the magazine Hoghogh (law). She died in 1925 at the age of 30 while undergoing surgery to correct a spinal injury she had suffered since age 9.

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Around 1900s Ashraf (Fakhr-al-Dowleh)

Mozafereddin Shah's daughter, the mother of Mirza Mohsen Khan (Amin-od-Dowleh II) was a wealthy and influential Qajar princess. Her strength and character earned her even the respect of Reza Shah (Pahlavi), who is said to have commented that the Qajars "only have one 'man' amongst them, and that is Khanoum-e Fakhr-al Dowleh." She was the grandmother of Dr. Amini, the Prime Minster of Iran in the 1961-1962.
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Early 1900s Bibi Vazir

She was originally from Caucasus (Ghafghaz) and was married to a well know constitutionalist Musa Khan Mirpanj. In 1907 she opened the first girl's school for Muslims in Tehran, Madressa Doushizegan (Girl's School). The school was violently opposed by leading clergymen such as Sheikh Fazlolah Nouri and Seyyed Ali Shoushtari who proclaimed that such schools were to be feared and this was a shock to pious citizens. They also objected to the use of the word doushizegan (virgin girls). She was initially forced by the Ministry of Education to close the school but it was re-opened later and remained. She also opened an orphanage for poor homeless girls and wrote articles in the news paper "Iran" belonging to the "Hizb-i Democrat" (Democratic Party). Her son Ali Naghi Vaziri was a well-known Musician who opened the Academy of Music in Tehran and educated many of the most prominent musicians of the period.

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Around 1900s Mrs. Jahangeer

A constitutionalist activist and the aunt of the murdered journalist Mirza Jahangeer Sur-i Israfil one of the founders of the popular reformist news paper Sur-i Israfil. She confronted Muzafar al-Din Shah Qajar publicly and demanded constitutional reform.

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Early 1900s Zeynab Pasha

Militant female leader of mass protests during the constitutional revolution (1905-1907). Daughter of Sheykh Suleiman, she was born in a poor neighbourhood in Tabriz. She gained heroic status during the protests against the tobacco concession awarded to the British by Nasir al-Din Shah Qajar. The bazaars were closed down protesting the concession and the police were forcing the shopkeepers to open their stores. She appeared armed with several other women attacking the police. The sight of armed women clad in chadors was so shocking that the police did not know what to do. Soon she became the leader of an army of women who appeared at many demonstrations and even attacked government wheat storage warehouses and distributed the looted grain amongst the local people.

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1905?-1959 Ghamar 0l-Molouk Vaziri,


The first female singer who appeared unveiled in a concert in Tehran She lost both her parents at an early age. Her grandmother, Kheyr al-Nesa was a singer of religious verses (rozehkhan) at all-female religious ceremonies. She was discovered and trained by the prominent Jewish Iranian musician (master of tar) Morteza Naydavoud. Her first concert in 1924 at the reception hall at Tehran's "Grand Hotel" marked the first occasion when a woman sang publicly and unveiled. She is known as the best female singer in Iran and some of her recordings have survived. Her popularity was unmatched at the time. She died in poverty and from illness in 1959.
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1881-1 939 Toba Azmodeh

Amongst the first women with modern education, she was fluent in Arabic and French. She was the daughter of Mirza Hassan Khan Sartip and married to Abdul Hussein Mirpanj. She opened a school for girls called Namus (roughly meaning honour) in her own house in Tehran despite threats and abuse by the mob and religious authorities. The school expanded and many of the most prominent females of the early 20th century were educated at her school.

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