Sattareh Farman-Farmaian, a daughter of Abdol Hossein Mirza Farmanfarma (c. 1858–1939), Prince of the Qajar dynasty, and Massumeh (third wife of eight), was born in Shiraz, Iran, in 1921, the fifteenth of thirty-six children (and third of nine children by her mother Massumeh). She had four brothers (Farough, Ghaffar, Rashid and Sabbar) and four sisters (Jabbareh "Jaby", Homy, Sory and Korshid).
Farman-Farmaian attended the Tarbiat School, a Bahá'í school in Tehran until its closing in 1933 by Reza Shah Pahlavi. Beginning in 1933, she attended the American School for Girls in the Presbyterian missionary compound in Tehran, renamed the Nurbaksh School. In 1943 she was accepted to Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio, obtaining a visa to the United States in 1944. That year she left Tehran, travelling through India, and first attempted to sail to the United States from Bombay, but her ship was torpedoed and she and her fellow passengers were rescued by British destroyers who returned them to Bombay. Her second attempt to leave India was aboard the United States Navy troopship, U.S.S. General Butler, arriving in Los Angeles on July 4, 1944. The following day Dr. Samuel M. Jordan (who had been involved with the American School in Tehran) met her in Los Angeles and convinced the admissions director of the University of Southern California to admit her. Farman-Farmaian was the first Iranian to attend and graduate from the University of Southern California, completing her B.A. in sociology (February 1946) and her M. S. W. (June 1948).
Early career and marriage
Following graduation in 1948, she took a job in Los Angeles at the International Institute, a settlement house for Asians and other immigrants. In 1948, she married a University of Southern California film student from India, Arun Chaudhuri, and in 1949 gave birth to her daughter, Mitra. In 1952, her husband returned to India in an attempt to find film work through family connections. Several months later, he wrote to tell her he was unable to find work and, in effect, was deserting her.
Move to New York
Farman-Farmaian left Los Angeles in September 1952 for New York, where two of her brothers lived, and took a job at Cities Service Oil, one of the companies that had been approached to assist Iran in selling its newly nationalized oil. In 1954, she left this position and accepted a two-year renewable position with the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a social welfare consultant to the government of Iraq, attempting to settle nomadic Arabic tribes in the desert. In the same year, with the assistance of a Cities Service Oil attorney, she applied for and was granted a divorce from Arun Chaudhuri. In June 1954 she left first for Tehran to visit her family, and then for Iraq to take on her new position. She had been able to keep her daughter Mitra with her for the first year in Bagdad, but, realizing that her work would take her to the desert, decided to send her to Dartington Hall in Devonshire, England, for her education.
Tehran School of Social Work
In 1958, Farman-Farmaian returned to Tehran to open a private two-year school to train social workers, the Tehran School of Social Work, and served as its director. The school was the first of its kind in Iran. Soon after, she assisted in the founding of the Family Planning Association of Iran which, with assistance from the Pathfinder Fund (now Pathfinder International), attempted to educate young mothers on family planning and the use of birth control in accordance with Islamic law. In the fall of 1958 she was called for an interview with Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who himself pledged funds for the support of the school. In 1962 she was awarded the Alumni Award of Merit by the University of Southern California. Following the 1963 riots in which many protested the jailing of Ruhollah Khomeini (later Ayatollah Khomeini) and over two hundred were injured or killed by the military, the Tehran School of Social Work, was asked by Premier Asadollah Alam to identify the families of victims so that reparations could be paid. As a result of the school's successful effort, it received a regular budget from the government and was able to move to a more suitable building. In 1966 the school built the first of many Community Welfare Centers, partially funded by Empress Farah, at which classes in literacy, child care, nutrition, and women's health and hygiene were offered, each containing a family planning clinic.
By 1972, Farman-Farmaian had attained a position on the board of the International Association of Schools of Social Work and had become a vice president of the International Planned Parenthood Federation through which she became a member of the "Forward Look Study" task force and the International Planned Parenthood Federation special mission to China. In addition, she served as a delegate to the Bucharest Population Conference (1974), the Tehran International Human Rights Conference (1975), and the Mexico International Conference for Women's Year (1976). She continued as director of the Tehran School of Social Work until 1979, when political upheaval forced her to flee the country. From 1980 to 1992 she worked for Children's Services at the Los Angeles County Department of Social Services. In 1993, she received the Silver Achievement Award from the Greater Los Angeles YWCA and special commendations from both the County and City of Los Angeles.
In addition to her autobiography, Daughter of Persia: A Woman's Journey from Her Father's Harem through the Islamic Revolution (1992), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, she published "Social Work as Social Development: A Case History" (1996), On the Other Side of the China Wall (1977), "Early Marriage and Pregnancy in Traditional Islamic Society" (1975), Prostitution Problems in the City of Tehran (1969), Children and Teachers (1966), Country Profile of Iranian Family Planning and Social Welfare (1965), and Children's Needs (1960). She has lectured widely worldwide and in 1997 established a website to publicize and facilitate discussion of her autobiography.
- Farman Farmaian, Sattareh; Munker, Dona (1992). Daughter of Persia. New York City: Crown Publishers, Inc. ISBN 0-552-13928-9.
- The Qajar (Kadjar) Pages
- The Qajar Portal
- Qajars Dynasty Turkoman dynasty of the Shahs of Persia
- Papers, 1925-2008 (inclusive), 1992-2008 (bulk): A Finding Aid.Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.
- Audiotape collection of Sattareh Farman-Farmaian, 1987-2008 (inclusive), 1987-1988 (bulk): A Finding Aid.Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University.