The History of Iranian Women`s First Oral Memoirs

To date, no reliable and well-documented research on the inception of oral history and memoirs in Iran or the Iranian men and women who have had their memories recorded on tape or film has been conducted in Iran. However, one can make rough guesses and estimates about its date thanks to the publication of a valuable book.
Both oral memoirs and history of Iranian women date certainly back to pre-revolution era and possibly to mid-1970s. I used the adverb possibly as I believe that there are lots of vague points about the inception of oral history and memoires of pre-revolution Iran which make the historiography not only difficult but also impossible.

Nāsser al-Din and Mozaffar al-Din era intellectual and author of Maayeb al-Rejal (Failings of Men), Bibi Khānūm Astarābādi is known to the Iranian nation. Most historians of the womens movements of Iran believe Astarābādi to be the first Iranian woman to pen a book in defense of womens rights. Fereydūn Ādamiyat and Homā Nāteq were the first scholars to introduce the book to the Iranian readership in 1970s. Moreover, it was published overseas by Afsāneh Najmābādi in recent years.

Astarābādi was married to Mūsā Khān Vaziri with whom she had children who later become prominent figures in Iranian music, painting and womens movements. Ali Naqi Vaziri (great musician), Hassan Ali Vaziri (Kamāl ol-Molks student and a renowned painter) and Khadijeh (Afzal) Vaziri (girls education activist) were her children.

In 1351 AH, Afzal Vaziri recorded her oral memories of Mollā Bāji Khadijeh (her grandmother), Mollā Bāji Shokūh o-Saltaneh (Nāsser al-Din Shāhs wife and Mozaffar al-Din Shāhs mother), Bibi Khānūm Astarābādi (her mother) and herself on a tape for Hossein Ali Mallāh (her son). She died in 1359 AH while she was 89 years old.

Years after her death, Mehrangiz Vaziri (her daughter) compiled and revised her mothers memories and sought to have them published in the US. Therefore, Afzal Vaziris memories and articles along with Bibi Khānūm Astarābādis articles were edited and published by Afsaneh Najmābādi and Mohammad Tavakkoli Toroqi in Chicago in 1996.

Ten years later, in 2006, Shirāzeh Publication published the groundbreaking book under the title Vanguard Women of Iran: Afzal Vaziri, Daughter of Bibi Khānūm Astarābādi in 176 pages with a preface by Zibā Jalali Naeeni.

To date, there have been no other pre-revolution oral memoirs prepared by Iranian women. Thus, Afzal Vaziris book is the first or one of the first oral memoirs of Iranian women and enjoys a special historical position among the books addressing Iranian oral history and memoirs.

Bibi Khānūm Astarābādi also founded Dabestān-e Dūshizegān, the first school for girls in Iran. Afzal Vaziri cooperated with her mother in teaching the students. The school was established in 1324 AH in Astarābādis house in Tehran. After the Majlis was shelled and Mohammad-Ali Shāh reestablished his dictatorship by a coup, some hardliners and royalist clergymen attacked the school as the hotbed of corruption! Afzal Vaziri quotes her mother and recounts some interesting memories of those days:

After the Majlis was shelled, a clergy gave a sermon, shouting:
-Alas for Islam that the country became a constitution!
The next day, he shouted:
-Poor is the country in which a school is opened for girls!

And then the people burst into tears and in our neighborhood, Seyyed Ali Shūshtari published a paper stating that the school for girls founded by Bibi Khānūm is against the Islam. She plays the tar in her house and hosts the artists. This excommunication letter was sold for 1 shāhi(1) near the horse wagons.
The thugs were also encouraged to break into and plunder the school. When my mother received the news, she went to meet the minister of sciences, Mokhber o-Saltaneh Hedāyat.
She said:

-Im here to ask for justice. Ive done nothing against the Islam. Ive just opened a school to educate the girls. Why is Seyyed Ali Shūshtari trying to close it?

Hedāyat replied:
-Its beyond my control!

She asked:
-I, a weak woman, am defending my school and you, the minister of Iran, say that you cant control the country affairs?

Hedāyat replied:
-No, I cant quarrel with the clerical establishment. But, I have an idea.

She asked:
-What idea?

Hedāyat replied
-You should have only 4-6 year-old girls are admitted written on its signboard and expel the older ones from the school because Seyyed Ali Shūshtari has interpreted girl as virgin and thus seductive!
My mother had no choice but to stick a paper reading only 4-6 year-old girls are admitted on the signboard against her will. She told the weeping older girls who did not want to quit their studies: “
-Go home! As soon as the commotion ends, youll come back and continue your studies! (Vaziri, 2006, pp. 26-27)

(1) 1 Shāhi was equal to 50 Dinār. Each 10 Shāhi would be exchanged for 1.2 Riāl.

Seyyed Qāsem Yāhusseini
Translated by: Katayoun Davallou

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