IQSA 2012 Conference:
Conference jointly organized by
IQSA and Boston University

~Women in the Qajar Era~

~ A conference honoring the pioneering work of Mrs. Sattareh Farmanfarmaian
on behalf of women in Iran ~

Conference Location:

Boston University, One Silber Way, Boston

Conference Dates:

Thursday May 31 and Friday June 1, 2012


Conference Costs : Conference fee each day: US$ 35. Students with ID: Free of charge [To pay online, please click here.]




I. The Arts and Architecture

1) Kaveh Mansoori, Negar Badri, Aisan Chavoshnejad, "Women and Newly Established Individualism in Qajar Harem Architecture."

Affiliations: EK Research Institute, Isfahan University of Arts, Emarat Khorshid Consulting Engineers


Qajar art and architecture was produced in a period in which the subjective and objective was undergoing evolution in particular in regards to urbanism. Since the Qajar era is the era which ushered in the age of modern Iranian architecture, the study of Qajar period architecture is being increasingly recognized as important. The novel, modern concepts that were formed in the Qajar period brought about a fundamental change in Iranian architecture. The Farahabad edifice (part of the royal harem) is one of the most remarkable constituent elements of the Gulistan Palace complex. Close study of the Gulistan Palace reveals noteworthy changes in the design of the private, residential elements of the complex. The focus of this paper is the Nasiri era, because it is in this period that new patterns in the design of women’s quarters can be detected, which reflect a major departure from the ways in which women’s quarters were designed in previous periods. It is worthy of note that, prior to the reign of Nasir al-Din Shah, royal harems consisted of large halls and rooms. In the Nasiri period, however, the fashion was for small, independent residential units, with each unit being allocated to a royal wife. The size and specifications of the unit was commensurate with the wife’s status, reputation, and influence at court. This change in harem design appears to reflect the growth of newly established individuality in Qajar society. These new constructions comprised separate buildings with bedrooms, living rooms , bathrooms and so on; rooms that had never been seen before. The Farahabad design is reflected in that of the women’s quarters in ‘Ishratabad, Shahristanak, and other harems from the Nasiri period. This architectural change seems to mirror the apparent change in the status of the Shah's wives in this period. This paper will also argue that the new style of residential houses in the first Pahlavi period, which clearly differ from traditional Iranian architectural designs, imitated the design of residential and harem quarters of the Gulistan Palace, and the encroachment of European concepts in Iranian architecture in the Qajar period.

2) Dr. Ahmad Kamranifar and Zahra Torki, "Engravings and Petrographs of Tombstones of Some Women’s Graves in Takht-i Fulad."

Affiliations: Islamic Azad University, Najaf Abad Branch


Takht-i Fulad is home to a wealth of graves of famous individuals. Although the deceased can no longer speak to us, we can read their gravestones and the inscriptions, ornamental and figurative designs, and calligraphy that embellish them. This historical graveyard contains a unique collection of engravings and symbols on tombstones created by master stonemasons. These tombstones can reveal much detailed information about those buried in Takht-i Fulad. Many well-known women are buried in Takht-i Fulad, including Maryam Bigum Gurji, Qudsiya Ihtishami, Maryam Khatunabadi, Sardar Maryam Bakhtiyari, and Victoria Afsurda. Their tombstones vary according to their economic, social, and cultural status. This paper will show how, and will seek to argue why, women’s tombstones in Takht-i Fulad differ from those of men buried there. Some of the hidden messages in the designs and engravings on the women’s tombstones will be discussed. The various engravings and inscriptions on the tombstones in Takht-i Fulad will be examined, and factors that determined the size and design of the tombstones will be investigated.

3) Pamela Karimi, "Women and Interior Design in Qajar Iran."

Affiliation: University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth


At the end of the Qajar era (late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries), the portrayal of homoerotic older men with younger men and heterosexual male-female couples--so prominent in the art of earlier dynasties--was replaced by depictions of solitary females. The Qajar fascination with women’s beauty and especially with their bare breasts was linked to Iranian men’s increasing access to Europe. Iranian officials who travelled to Europe saw it as a kind of heaven and European women reminded them of the promised heavenly angels (hurs). It is thus no surprise that images of European women (zan-e farangi) came to embellish the late-Qajar aristocratic homes. At the time when boundaries of andarun (harem) and birun (the men’s outer section of the domicile) began to slowly disappear, gendered identity was secured through other means, such as taste in interior design and decoration. Unable to afford the underglaze painted tiles of the capital’s palaces, many upper-class households instead inserted oleograph or chromolithograph portraits of European women into the masonry of their walls. These printed images were translated into built form by local craftsmen, who carefully embedded the images into the frames of mirror fragments on plastered walls and lacquered them. Whereas traditional techniques of interior decoration (arabesque) were good for the longue durée, these new "kitsch" decorations seemed temporary (even though some of them have remained intact to the present day). In this paper, I explore an overlooked aspect of Islamic architecture and describe how printed images interface with structural media; I show how the popularity of printed images contributed to the decline of traditional decorative revetments and craftsmanship; and I demonstrate that this imported print culture played a significant role in "naturalizing" connotative associations among domestic architecture, femininity, kitsch, and consumerism at the dawn of Iran’s entry into its modernization phase.

4) Dariush Rahmanian and Azadeh Hassanein, "Women In Qajar Photography: A Case Study of Ali Khan Vali Album."

Affiliation: Tehran University


The introduction of photography (and, subsequently, cinematography) to Iran caused a monumental revolution in Iranian cultural history, and has impacted our understanding of subsequent events. Nowadays, historians encounter a multitude of pictorial documents mapping the past 170 years of Iranian history. These photographs have influenced and altered both their research methods, and their approaches. Just two or three years after the invention of the photographic camera in France, photography entered Iran. Qajar history cannot ignore photographs and other pictorial documents. Qajar era photographs contain an enormous amount of information for those wishing to investigate the cultural and social history of this period. Ali Khan Sardar (or Ali Khan Vali) -- who was a descendant of Mu'ayyir al-Mamalik anda statesmen ofthe Nasiri and Muzaffari periods, and who variously acted as governor of Maragha, Khuy, Urumiya, and Ardabil -- was one of the most important and prominent photographers of his day. Several albums, with handwritten commentaries, have survived from him. Three of them are held at the Gulistan Palace library. His main album, entrusted to Harvard University for safekeeping by his surviving relatives and accessible online through the University's library, includes over 1,400 photos. The authors of this article have completed a transcription of the handwritten notes in the album, and prepared an introduction, explanations, and marginal notes, for publication. Ali Khan Vali was educated well versed in Iranian history and geography, and had learned photography while a student. He prepared this album while serving as governor in the above-mentioned towns. Ali Khan's album contains not only numerous portraits of well-known statesmen, members of the elite, and clergymen but it also includes photos and portraits of laymen and less well-known individuals. The album also contains numerous photographs of landscapes, cities, villages, and historical monuments and buildings. Nearly a hundred of the photos in the album pertain to the lives of girls and women, of which 59 pictures are of adult and older women and 42 pictures are those of adolescent and young girls. Thirteen of these pictures are of Western European and Russian girls and women, and the remainder depicts Iranian women in Azarbaijan and Kurdistan. Studying and investigating these photographs is most useful for those who wish to understand the conditions of women and girls’ lives at that time, in socio-economic and cultural terms. This paper will analyze this body of photographs systematically.

5) Irina Koshoridze and Marina Dgebuadze, "The Depiction of Women and the Concept of Ideal Beauty in the Qajar Era."

Affiliation: Georgian National Museum, Shalva Amiranashvili Museum of Fine Art


This paper will study the development of the concept of ideal beauty in the Qajar Era based on hitherto unexamined visual material (mostly miniature painting) kept in the oriental collections of the Georgian National Museum. The materials cover all periods of Qajar rule from early 19th century till the early 20th century. The understanding of what constituted ideal beauty changed when the Qajars came to power –the most fruitful period of this development was the Fath 'Ali Shah period, when the main criteria of beauty were established. The images of dancing girls and other performing and entertaining women are some of the key images of ideal beauties from this period. The style of depiction changed dramatically in the second half of the 19th century in the wake of Nasir al-Din Shah's travels to Europe during which time the strange fashion of wearing ballet garb was introduced to Iran. After the establishment of the polytechnic (Dar al-Funun) in 1851, and introduction of photography, European fashion and style of dress was introduced and the first portraits of "real" woman were created in Iran. The Georgian National Museum is home to up to 100 miniatures and paintings depicting women, which display all these various artistic tendencies in Qajar Art. These miniatures can be grouped according to theme and chronology. The most interesting part of the paper will be the names of the miniature painters who worked in that time, such as the court painter of Nasir al-Din Shah, Husayn Afshar, his sons, Biglar and Husayn Afshar, and other painters such as Husayn, 'Ali-Husayn, and Isma'il.

6) Joanna de Groot: Women and Gendered Space in the Qajar era: A Reappraisal

Affiliation: Department of History, University of York


This paper will reconsider the dichotomies most often deployed by historians to characterise distinctive male and female uses and experiences of space in the nineteenth century. Two tropes have become particularly familiar in discussions of this topic, that of separation and that of confinement, and the paper will seek both to move away from them, and to reflect on their more complex implications. It will explore how women’s use of space was shaped both by the conventions, norms, and expectations which might regulate or restrict that use, and by women’s own agency in managing, accepting or subverting such regulations and definitions. It will examine three types of spatial setting, the andarun space of affluent households, the working spaces where women engaged in productive labour, and the religious spaces of ritual and ceremony. In the first case it will develop an analysis of the real, imagined, or transgressed boundaries for female action and experience in household settings, and their relationship to women’s mobility and agency. The use of social networks, of sanctioned forms of mobility, and of female intermediaries gave those women resident in andaruns a range of spatial options not adequately encompassed by the notion of ‘confinement’. In the second case it will consider whether household or family economies and their positioning within modes of production did not affect the gendering of space as much as gender conventions affected the organisation and division of labour. From carpet workshops to pastoral encampments, or organised urban entertainment, women involved in contributing productively to their households might well operate within spaces which were neither wholly confined nor wholly homosocial. In the third case it will explore the varied opportunities for, and limitations on, female spatial mobility and autonomy within religious practice. Here women’s self organised and autonomous involvement in religious ceremonies and active support for their particular religious affiliations took them into a variety of spaces beyond home or workplace. Visual and written material will be used to show that, while the gendering of space was a significant feature of societies in Iran during the Qajar era, this was a fluid, contested and complex phenomenon. Linking social, political and cultural readings of space it will be argued that there was a rich repertoire of existing spatial practice to be drawn on by women who sought to reconfigure that practice in modern times.

II. Women and Literature

1) Dominic Parviz Brookshaw, "Expression Justified: Framing Women’s Poetry in Qajar Iran."

Affiliation: Stanford University


Through a close reading of the prologues to three pivotal works from the 1820s, 1880s, and the turn of the century, this paper will map changes in attitudes to women's poetry in the Qajar period. In the paper it is argued that three major incremental shifts in the approach to framing of women’s poetry in this period can be discerned, namely the "novel", the "historical" and the "conventional". The first text discussed in the paper is Mahmud Mirza's 1825 anthology of women's poetry, Nuql-i Majlis, which represents the "novel" approach in which women's poetry in general (and Qajar women's poetry more specifically) is presented as a new phenomenon, one that deserves to be preserved and shared in writing. The second text is I’timad al-Saltana's three-volume biographical dictionary of women, the Khayrat-i hisan (1886-1889), which represents the "historical" approach. In this approach, Qajar women poets are contextualized by including them within a long history of erudite and accomplished Muslim women that stretches back to the earliest days of Islam. The third approach is the "conventional" as displayed in the introduction to the Divan of Shamsat al-Shu'ara, Gawhar Khanum printed in Isfahan in 1901. In the introduction to Gawhar Khanum’s Divan, the publisher, in stark contrast to Mahmud Mirza less than eighty years before, stresses that it is conventional for women from the Qajar elite to write poetry. By printing the first complete Divan of a Qajar woman, the publisher also signals his confidence that women poets have moved into a position where they can stand alongside their male counterparts.

2) Behrooz Mahmoodi-Bakhtiari, Farhang Farbod "Cultural Notes About Qajar Women: A Study of the Plays of the Era."

Affiliation: Tehran University


Not much is known about the cultural and social life of Iranian women during the Qajar era. Being confined to their houses, and having little access to education and social activities, pushed most of the women of the Qajar era to the margins of the society. Historical narratives do not provide us with much data on the ways women lived, dressed, worked, or thought. However, the plays of the period that have survived may be able to offer some useful information about women’s lives in Qajar Iran. In the surviving plays, we encounter some aspects of women’s daily lives that we do not see elsewhere, such as: songs sung in wedding parties, the alimony they requested from their would-be husbands, the way they talked to each other, and the jargon they used among themselves. In this article, we provide the audience with details taken from all the Qajar period plays that have survived, in order to shed light on this dark corner of Iranian women's history.

3) Sahar Allamezade-Jones, "The Subjection of Iranian Women: Representation of Women in Fath 'Ali Akhundzadeh's Tamsilat."

Affiliation: University of Maryland, College Park


Fath 'Ali Akhundzadeh (1812-1878) is best known as a major advocate of cultural reform. It is only recently that Akhundzadeh has been introduced by some scholars as one of the pioneering critics of the segregation of women, the institution of veiling, and other issues pertaining to women’s situation in nineteenth-century Iran. However, they have stopped at this introduction or have briefly quoted from his Maktubat (Correspondences) and his other essays as supporting evidence. The main body of scholarship dedicated to Akhundzadeh’s works mainly discusses his contribution to literary criticism, Persian literature and poetry, and his revolutionary ideas to reform the Persian alphabet. In other words, Akhundzadeh’s works in relation to women’s issues have been treated as secondary sources and have not been given the primacy that they deserve. Akhundzadeh wrote on a variety of topics in Russian and his native tongue, Azeri Turkish, but his focus remained on cultural reform in Iran. His two epistolary essays in Persian on the art of writing, "Resaleh-ye Irad" (Treatise of Disapprobation) and "Qeritika" (Critique), that convey a deeply felt desire to familiarize Iranians with the notion and activity of criticism, are examples of his most read works.

To that end, and in order to advance our knowledge of women’s situation during the Qajar period, it is important to reread Akhundzadeh’s works with a new interest in relation to the issues of women. Therefore, this paper is a study of the representation of women in Akhundzadeh’s Tamsilat (Allegories). Originally written in Azeri Turkish, these plays are satirical and comic. Through a close reading of these plays this paper introduces, examines, and interrogates different themes that pertain to women such as romantic love, arranged-marriage, polygamy, etc. Naturally, as one of the central organizing metaphors in the construction of historical times and the long-term process of social change, gender reveals itself a key concept, which shapes the critical framework of this study.

Given the nature of presentations and time constraints, this paper will only discuss three plays out of the total six. The three plays studied in this paper are: Sargozasht-e Vazir-e Lankaran (The Case of Lankaran’s Vizier), Hekayat-e Khers-e Gholdorbashan (The Tale of the Bullying Bear), and Vokala-'eh Morafe-'eh (Attorneys of the Lawsuit). Every play highlights one aspect of women’s lives more than others. Although for the most part these themes are presented in relation to larger social problems such as injustice, but at one point they take precedence and even subordinate the themes of social criticism to a romantic tale. The Hekayat-e Khers-e Gholdorbashan is one such tale. In this play the love of Bayram for Parizad is hampered by Parizad’s villainous cousin, Tarverdi. At the end, despite all hurdles the lovers are united in marriage.

The study of Akhundzadeh’s works on women shows that the scarcity of works by women in the nineteenth-century should not discourage scholars in their quest for learning about their lives. Rereading the existing texts, looking at the way authors conceptualized gender, and watching for silences in texts can bring us closer to a better understanding of women’s lives and their issues.

III. Biographies

1) Eden Naby, "Murassa and Queen Victoria: Assyrian Women’s Public Role in Qajar Azarbaijan."

Affiliation: Independent Scholar


The history of Assyrian women's public life begins with the familiar story of the bishop of Gavilan leading his pre-teen niece by the hand to Urmiah and entrusting her to Fidelia Fiske (1816-1864) the missionary educator who had just graduated from the first American college for women located in Massachusetts. Thus began a seventy-year period – to 1914 – when Assyrian women thrived in Qajar Iran as perhaps none of their non-Assyrian contemporary sisters did in the entire country.

One of them, possibly this same girl-child, grew up to be so respected by the men in her town of Geog Tepe that she presented at least one petition to the American missionaries on their behalf. She wrote the petition in English and the town’s twenty-two leading Assyrian men signed it in Assyrian Aramaic or stamped it with their ring-seals.

And yes, Murassa traveled to England twice, first in 1879, and had audiences with members of Queen Victoria’s family and cabinet secretaries, then with the Queen herself. Thus it was that the Queen wrote to Nasruddin Shah and to the British ambassador to the Qajar court to put a stop to the persecution of Christians in northwest Iran.

But Murassa, wife, mother and educator, though an early leader among Assyrian women, formed one in a body of Assyrian women educated at mission schools, both Catholic and Protestant, that by the 1880 already numbered in the hundreds. By the turn of the 19th century they were contributing to Assyrian Aramaic periodicals, running rural schools, and even heading into the medical profession. In no small measure, though many of them perished in the genocide in northwest Iran, they were responsible for establishing schools in refugee camps in Iraq, among refugees in Hamadan and Kermanshah, and even leading educational institutions in Tehran during the early Pahlavi period.

The struggle to establish education for women in Urmiah beginning in the 1840s grew out of the determination of American women missionaries to elevate the condition of women. In their American environment, their sisters and mothers led the fight for abolition of slavery, and the temperance movement. The remarkable aspect of the Assyrian women in Qajar Iran is how they rose in their public role in an ethnic community that was patriarchal socially and conservative religiously as was much of non-Christian Iran.

In this presentation I will discuss the sources for detailed information about Assyrian women in Qajar Iran, the route that their education took through secondary school, and the effects of their education on their personal status and public life. This analysis will also emphasize how the status of Assyrian women and their role as educational leaders helped to maintain Assyrian cultural survival for several generations after the genocide of World War I.

Primary sources for this study are Zahrire d-bahra (Rays of Light) the first newspaper published in Iran (1849-1918), the journals of Murassa and her granddaughter Mariam, the Fidelia Fiske archives at Mount Holyoke College, and the archives of the Presbyterian Historical Society.

2) Mahbubeh Moghadam "Re-thinking Anis al-Dawla."

Affiliation: WWQI Project


One of the important aspects of women's lives, veiled in the passage of time, is the depiction of the personality of important and influential women. The influence of these women has been seen through their proximity to the center of power of their time, and attributed, for the most part, to their outward beauty. Such an approach towards women in Iran has been widespread, due to a range of reasons, including Orientalist attitudes and writings that portray a virago or ethereal image of women.

One of these female figures is Anis al-Dawla, one of the wives of Nasir al-Din Shah, the fourth king of Qajar dynasty. For more than three decades, she was one of the most influential women in the Nasiri harem. However, in many European travelogues in which the harem is mentioned, she has been referred to because of her beauty and her status as the Shah’s favorite wife. A closer reading of various sources, manuscripts, and memoirs which have survived from that period (including the published works of I'timad al-Saltana and 'Ayn al-Dawla -- key figures of the Nasiri era), display other aspects of this woman’s personality that have been obscured behind the dominant interpretations included in the travelogues. Anis al-Dawla is distinguished from many other royal women because of her intelligence in briefing the king and providing him with insightful counsel, for her important role in regulating relationships between residents of the royal harem, as well as their relations with the outside World. Anis al-Dawla’s relatively informed opinion on the lives of peasants, her considerable relations with governors of the provinces and their families, her awareness and intellectual reflections in her interactions with foreigners (men and women alike), and her self-reliance are a number of the other features of her life and personality that come out of a closer reading of the Persian sources. This paper elaborates further on these aspects to provide a clearer portrait of Anis al-Dawla. The paper ends with pictures of Anis al-Dawla’s house (located in Tehran's Amiriya quarter) where she lived after the death of the monarch.

3) Reyhaneh Javadi, "Women of the Harem: Unconscious Followers or Conscious Actors; Women of the Nasseri Court in Opposition to Reforms."

Affiliation: M.A student of Sociology in Tehran University


One of the most important questions about the women of Harem in Qajar Era (1785 -1925) is their role in political decisions and the extent of their autonomy in these decisions. While most of the historical narratives and historical works introduce the women of the court as passive and unconscious followers who were simply playthings of the courtiers, governors and clergymen, there are a few historical narratives which see these women as dynamic and conscious subjects. For instance, although most of the accounts reduce Mahd-i 'Ulya's (Nasir al-Din Shah's mother) oppositions to Amir Kabir (the prime minister of Iran in the years 1848–1850) to personal matters, these oppositions which caused the prime minister’s murder may be considered as conscious attempts on the part of Mahd-i 'Ulya to establish her position as the queen mother and a decision maker in political issues of the court. On the other hand, Anis al-Dawla’s opposition to Sipahsalar (the prime minister of Iran in the years 1871–1873), is another example of an attempt by a woman of the court to achieve autonomy. Most historical narratives mention that bringing her back to Iran from her trip with Nasir al-Din Shah to Russia and stopping her from accompanying the shah on the rest of his first trip to Europe was the main reason of Anis al-Dawla’s opposition to Sipahsalar. Although this opposition, which caused Sipahsalar’s resignation in 1873, might be seen as Anis Al-Dawla’s attempt to establish her position as first lady of the court after the death of Mahd-i 'Ulya. With this assumption that unlike the narratives and analyses of most of the historians, the women of the court were not only the followers of decisions which made outside of the harem, but rather they consciously and with a "rational choice" were in opposition to the reform trends. The question is: Why did they choose to oppose the reforms rather than supporting them as a means to achieve more power? Focusing on two women of Nasir al-Din Shah's court, Mahd-i 'Ulya (1805- 1873) and Anis al-Dawla (1842- 1896), and comparing them with one of the daughters of Shah, Taj al-Saltana (1883 – 1936), who choose another way to support social change and reform, this paper will answer this question: Why did these women, instead of supporting the idea of change and social reform which could have brought them some positive and productive outcomes as women, chose to react against these changes and took up positions in opposition to these reforms.

4) Nasser Mohajer, "Fakhr al-Dawla: The Woman and the Legend."

Affiliation: Independent Scholar


In the mid-nineteen forties, Princess Fakhr al-Dawla, who had a great admiration for her enlightened father-in-law, Mirza Ali Khan Amin al-Dawla, Prime Minister of Muzaffar al-Din Shah, decided to have a mosque built in his honour. Although that mosque (which stands at a short distance from the Majlis or Iranian Parliament) was named after Amin al-Dawla, it became known as the mosque of Fakhr al-Dawla. After the 1979 Revolution, an unsuccessful attempt was made to change its name to Masjid-i Fakhr, and people continued to refer to the mosque as Masjid-i Fakhr al-Dawla. This very fact attests to the personality of this Qajar Princess who is the subject of this paper. Fakhr al-Dawla's life is surrounded by fact and fiction. Did this principled woman indeed defy the Shah, her father, to follow her husband's family into exile? Did the courageous woman at an early age risk her life to save her husband from the hands of Mirza Kuchak Khan Jangali? Was this entrepreneurial woman the first Iranian to set up a taxi company in Tehran? Was she in her day the richest woman in Asia? The purpose of this paper is to distinguish fact from fiction and throw light upon the life and times of an Iranian woman who embodied both modernity and tradition, and contributed to the change of gender relations in Iran.

IV. Gender and Historiography

1) Fatemeh Masjed, "Feminist Historiography of Early Twentieth Century Iran."

Affiliation: Free Berlin University and Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin Germany (PhD pending)


While studying the recent feminist historiography of early twentieth century, I was faced with a shortage of primary sources about women, as well as by a lack of theoretical sources on how to compose a diverse (in terms of class, region, ethnicity and religion) feminist historiography of Iran. A shortage of information related to women’s historical sources has obliged feminist historians to collect what little information is available in primary sources, which mostly deal with women’s general achievements. The problem one often finds in reading feminist historians is that they tend to obscure women’s private lives in the early twentieth century and generalize their diverse experiences.

In this paper, I have utilized marriage contracts which have not been taken into account in feminist historiography, to examine women’s experiences in their private lives and their relationship with men based on socioeconomic conditions through the surviving marriage contracts of the early twentieth century. These contracts have mostly survived from the legal court system of the Constitutional era in the Tehran region and are an excellent source for examining women’s issues that were taken to court. Temporary marriages, daily expenditure or nafaqa and being forced into prostitution were some of the charges against husbands for which women of the time filed suit in a court of law. The other sources I have used are marriage and divorce procedures in the early twentieth century which were practiced according to Islamic law.

2) Farzin Vejdani, "History and Biography in the Service of the Iranian Women’s Movement (1919-1925)."

Affiliation: University of Arizona


Scholarship on late Qajar historiography overwhelmingly assumes the writing of history was an exclusively male endeavor. Studies of women and gender in Iran, on the other hand, have examined such diverse themes such as sexuality, feminism, women’s education and the press but little has been said about women as writers of history. This paper attempts to address this gap in the scholarship by focusing on women writing histories and biographies in the late Qajar Iranian women's press. It argues the Iranian women’s press constituted a "subaltern counterpublic" where feminists circulated histories and biographies of exemplary women as a means of redefining and rearticulating women’s roles in education, politics, and society. The paper begins by considering briefly the relationship between women’s associations and the press in Iran before examining why feminists felt the need to write histories after the First World War. It was during this time that Iranian feminists sought to inscribe women into histories and biographies usually inhabited and produced by men. The paper then turns to the question why women’s histories focused on the status of women in Islamic history and stressed transnational solidarity between contemporary Muslim women rather than stress histories of Iranian women. It argues that the Iranian women’s movement should be understood within a broader wave of near contemporary women’s movements in the Ottoman Empire, Egypt, French Syria and Lebanon, and India. Through counter-hegemonic historical narratives, Iranian feminists endeavored to demonstrate how the reforms they espoused were grounded in Islamic history rather than being unprecedented "heretical" innovations.

3) Manoutchehr Eskandari-Qajar, "The Women behind the Throne: Powerful Voices from Unexpected Quarters."

Affiliation: Santa Barbara City College and IQSA


The Tarikh-e Azodi by Soltan Ahmad Mirza, Fath 'Ali Shah's 49th son, is a unique eye-witness account of the role and the importance of the women at Fath 'Ali Shah's Court and that of his successor and grandson Mohammad Shah Qajar. In the pages of the Tarikh we hear the voices and witness the doings of the Mahd-e Olia, the mother of Fath 'Ali Shah; of Agha Baji, who was addressed as Queen by foreign queens; of the famous Tavous Khanom "Tadj ed-Dowleh," Fath 'Ali Shah's great love and favorite wife; of Shah Begom Khanom "Zia al-Saltaneh," 7th daughter of Fath 'Ali Shah, and her father's favorite companion, interlocutor and secretary; of the fiery Badr-ol Nessa Khanom, one of Fath 'Ali Shah's senior Qovanlu wives; and of Khazen ed-Dowleh, who rose from the status of servant to the Mahd-e Olia to the rank of the chief treasurer of the harem, one of the most powerful and respected positions in the hierarchy of the harem among the wives of Fath Ali Shah.

Some of the most moving and memorable passages of the Tarikh-e Azodi feature the voices of these women when those of the men are unreasonable, silent or in doubt as to how to proceed.

Though it is true and goes without saying that the place of women, from the household, to the harem to the marketplace and the public square, was dictated by religious interpretation and decided upon by men, and though it is true that the women in question here are women of the highest rank, wives and daughters of the shah, nevertheless this record is evidence that their voices were not silent or silenced and that they were able to influence the outcome of events according to their own wishes, and that their actions had impact beyond the harem all the way to the arena of domestic and even international politics.

4) Simin Fasihi, "A Thousand Petitions; A Single Demand: Reflections on Women’s Petitions During the Constitutional Period."

Affiliation: Al-Zahra University


There is some literature about the many petitions that were submitted to the Majlis in the early Constitutional period, including women’s petitions. Little, however, has been done in terms of analyzing the form, content, and the language of women’s petitions. This paper will analyze the content and language of these petitions and will demonstrate that despite the specific content of these petitions – largely centered on financial claims, property disputes, defense of individual and family rights – their form of presentation and in particular the language of these petitions point to their significance in terms of women’s perceptions of their own position as citizens of a new form of government. While at times they employ the dominant language of women as inferior (often in an ironical mode), in other petitions they use a stronger and more challenging language. The paper will conclude with some reflections about women in this period as modern subjects demanding national recognition – an unfinished project.

V. Women and Modernity

1) Dariush Rahmanian and Zahra Hatami, "Sorcery and Magic, Talisman and Taviz and the World of Women in Qajar Era."

Affiliation: Tehran University


There were many commonly held beliefs in the Qajar era. One of them was a belief in sorcery, magic, and talismans. Until now, it has been asserted that women believed in these practices more than men. The question is this: To what extent did women and men believe in sorcery, magic, and talismans in the Qajar era? Is it true that women believed more in sorcery than men? Moreover, was there any discrepancy in these beliefs between urban and rural populations? Is it right that living in cities and having broader social relations decreased the intensity of these beliefs? This paper will argue that men and women believed in these practices to equal degrees, an assertion which contradicts the view held by many that women believed more in sorcery, magic, and talismans in the Qajar era. The real difference between men and women in this regard lies in the functions for which they used sorcery, magic, and talismans: men tended to use them in their business to compete with their rivals and enemies, but women usually used them in their private lives and for their families. This duality is related to gender divisions imposed by Iranian culture on men and women. The woman’s sphere was the home, where as men moved in the outside world.

This paper will explore whether there was any difference in rural communities where men and women worked side by side in the fields. Is it possible that the degree of their belief in these matters was less than those who lived in urban areas? Some of those who lived in large cities and were of a higher socio-economic status were in greater contact with westerners. These new relationships brought with them western cultural, social, and ethical elements which challenged Iranian society and, subsequently, effected changes within it. One of the areas which changed more was family relationships. The relationship with the west brought about a new definition and image of the Iranian woman, her responsibilities, permissible and illicit fields of activity for her, and a change in her interaction with men to whom she was not closely related. These new definitions, in addition to the activities of social reformists who tried to develop public education for women, and sought to empower them to become independent economically by taking jobs outside home, decreased the roles in Qajar society for sorcery, magic, and talismans in women’s family lives.

2) Jasmin Khosravie, "Bending Boundaries, Crossing Taboos: Sediqeh Dowlatabadi's Newspaper Zaban-e Zanan."

Affiliation: University of Bonn, Germany


Isfahan-born activist, educator, and publisher Sediqeh Dowlatabadi (1882-1961) is considered one of the most significant protagonists in the Iranian women's movement during the late Qajar and early Pahlavi periods. Sediqeh Dowlatabadi spent her adolescence and early career in the capital, where she became actively involved in the nationalist fight for a constitution and a parliamentary system after the turn of the century. Much of her engagement took place within the networks of several Tehrani women’s societies, which were preoccupied with female education, charity work, and patriotic nationalist campaigns. The focus of my presentation will be the project Sediqeh Dowlatabadi became particularly famous for a few years after she resettled to her hometown of Isfahan, namely the publication of her controversial newspaper, Zaban-e Zanan ("Women’s Voice," 1919-22), published in Isfahan and some later numbers in Tehran. Being the third women’s newspaper to appear in Iran after Danesh ("Knowledge," 1910-11) and Shekoufe ("Blossom," 1912-16), Sediqeh Dowlatabadi's Zaban-e Zanan featured several pioneering characteristics, such as making use of the word zanan ("women") in its title, being the first women’s newspaper to be published outside of the capital, candidly addressing pressing issues of its time and announcing to accept female-authored contributions only. Zaban-e Zanan faced severe opposition by localauthorities for its outspoken nature and its outright challenge to detrimental policies regarding educational reforms, women’s rights, and the preservation of national sovereignty. Although Sediqeh Dowlatabadi suffered personal assaults, countless threats, and nightly attacks, she did not surrender to the pressure and only stopped writing temporarily when her newspaper was banned in early 1921 for repeated interference in political matters.

This paper aims at examining Sediqeh Dowlatabadi's newspaper from two different, yet connected angles: Firstly, it will explore how Zaban-e Zanan served as a platform of communication among different parties, including its supporters and opponents, thereby considering the dynamic processes of the newspaper’s production, reception and effect. Secondly, the paper analyzes the narrative techniques Sediqeh Dowlatabadi applied in selected articles and how they formed and supported her arguments. Through this analysis, the paper will shed light on the interrelation of narrative structure and context tracing underlying cultural paradigms as they are reflected in Sediqeh Dowlatabadi's writing. Accordingly, the above stated approach shall contribute to a deeper understanding of the nature of female activism and its expressions among educated, middle-class Iranian women, who Sediqeh Dowlatabadi represents, during the late Qajar era.

VI. The European Gaze

1) Sunil Sharma, "Qajar Women in Travel Literature: A Comparative Approach."

Affiliation: Boston University


Many British women of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were intrepid travellers and their travel books are replete with social and ethnographic information about the places they visited and the people they came into contact with, both within and outside the British empire. As women they had access to a whole segment of eastern societies, in the Persian context, Qajar women, from which male travellers were barred. In works such as Mary Sheil's Glimpses of Life and Manners in Persia (1856) to Isabella Bird's Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan (1891), Gertrude Bell's Persian Pictures (1894), and finally, Ella Sykes' Through Persia on a Side Saddle (1898), we see that Persian women elicit the curiosity and sympathy of the European writers, but ultimately they remain exotic creatures for them. The female European gaze, focusing on either aristocratic or tribal women, does not lead to any attempts of friendship with individuals. Therefore, were European women writers as complicit in the project of Orientalism as their male counterparts? Interestingly, if we examine two male perspectives of the same trip to Iran and Central Asia, Sir Alexander Burnes' Travels into Bokhara (1834), and his Hindu munshi Mohan Lal's Travels in Panjab, Afghanistan & Turkistan (1846), it is seen that the Indian traveller has much to say about women in general, while the Englishman is silent on the subject. This paper will compare the various travelogues in terms of how the gender of the authors, and also their race and cultural background, conditioned their responses to interacting with and describing women in Qajar Iran. Furthermore, a comparative study of the interaction of female European travel writers of this period with Iranian women versus those of the Indian subcontinent promises to provide us with a more nuanced view of this cultural encounter.

2) Irene Natchkebia and Irina Koshoridze, "The Brilliance and Poverty of Women in the Qajar Epoch."

Affiliation: Ilia State University G. Tsereteli Institute of Oriental Studies, Department of Modern and Early Modern History of the Middle East (Tbilisi, Georgia)


Works about Persia published in Europe in the first decade of the nineteenth century contain important information about the geography and history of the country, as well as the economic and social situation in the Qajar period. These works also contain interesting notes about Iranian women. The qualification of the harem as "a perpetual prison" and "a colony of Amazons" is the point of view of a well-educated European about this closed and mysterious institution. The information provided by Lady Ouseley and Lady Sheil regarding their reception at the harems of Fath 'Ali Shah and Nasir al-Din Shah merits special attention. Writings about Persia attracted so much attention that some European authors who had never visited Persia also wrote in their works about the "brilliance and poverty" of women. This paper will also discuss information provided by European observers regarding women of different nationalities and religions living in Qajar Persia. In this way, researchers collected evidences and facts from all relevant documents and texts such as published Newspapers, Revolutionary and Political Manifestos, Memoirs, Travel writings, Autobiographies, novels and stories and so on, which existed in Iranian National library at that time.