Sattareh Farman Farmaian – The social worker Princess (Part two)

Read part one here.

After 32 days, she arrived in Los Angeles – now she just needed to reach Ohio. Along with a handful of other passengers who had no one to pick them up, she was taken in by the Red Cross. A friend of her father, Dr Jordan, lived in Pasadena and came to pick up her the following day. He then drove her to the University of Southern Californa and convinced them to register her. She was housed at the University and promised to visit Dr Jordan every Sunday. Sattareh felt lonely and isolated at first as English still came difficult to her. She wrote to her family, but her many letters went unanswered. In December, she received a letter from her brother Farough who had made it to New York. Early the next year, she moved to cheaper housing with several others. Then, letters from Iran also came trickling in. Sattareh worked various part-time jobs and took as many courses as the university would allow. She was soon able to graduate much earlier than expected. In the autumn of 1946, she began to study social work – soon realising that this was what she wanted to set up in Iran. She wanted to start programs that would help people.

At university, she met her future husband Arun Chaudhuri, a Hindu student who was studying cinematography. Sattareh graduated in June 1948 with a Master of Social Work degree and began to work for the International Institute, a settlement house for immigrants. Sattareh slowly lost contact with her university friends and felt alone all over again. Arun too was alone, and he finally proposed marriage to her. In her memoirs, she does not describe being in love, only that they cared for and respected each other. They were married, and in the spring of 1949, Sattareh gave birth to a girl named Mitra. During this time, she also took night classes to gain a teaching certificate.

Arun was not so successful in trying to obtain employment, and their marriage was soon under strain. He believed it would be easier to find work in India and he left in 1952 with Sattareh’s blessing. However, he soon stopped writing to her, though, after a while, it became clear that he did not want to return to the US. During this time, Sattareh was approached by the United Nations Bureau of Social Affairs who were looking for trained social workers. Sattareh then travelled to New York for the interview where she also found that Mitra could not be entered into her passport. However, Mitra was an American citizen and would be able to travel to Iran with a visa. At the consulate, she met an oil execute who offered her a job with Cities Service Oil. With a significant pay raise from her social work salary, she moved to New York to work as an advisor on Iran for them. An attorney of the company also helped her to file for divorce.

Soon, she realised that she wanted to be near her family again and was offered a two-year renewable position with UNESCO as a social welfare consultant to the government of Iraq. Mitra was sent to boarding school, where it would be safe. In June 1954, she took a plane to Iran, where she was to spend a month. She had been gone for over ten years, and her family had come out in full force to meet her at the airport. She spent four years in Iraq.

In 1958, Sattareh opened a private school for social work in Tehran, and Mitra was able to visit her in the summers. The school slowly grew into a respected facility, and Sattareh was soon lobbying for social legislation. She also began several pilot programs over the next eight years and became a much-respected teacher and social worker. Mitra graduated from her English boarding school in 1966 and went on to attend a college in Florida. She later went to study early childhood education at Indiana University. Mitra married an American man shortly after graduating. Sattareh became a grandmother not much later.

Political upheaval finally forced Sattareh to flee Iran in 1979. She wrote, “At last, when I was sure that we were no longer over Iranian territory, I took off my black kerchief. It was like removing a heavy iron helmet.”1 She made her way to London where she worked part-time for Planned Parenthood. Then, she travelled on to the United States, where Mitra was living with her family. She returned to her work as a social worker until her retirement in 1992.

Sattareh died of lymphoma at the age of 90 on 23 May 2012.

Long ago I set out into the world with my arms wide open, and I am sure that if I had to do it all over again, I would.2

  1. Daughter of Persia: A Woman’s Journey from Her Father’s Harem Through the Islamic Revolution by Sattareh Farman Farmaian p.523
  2. Daughter of Persia: A Woman’s Journey from Her Father’s Harem through the Islamic Revolution by Sattareh Farman Farmaian p.532

About Moniek Bloks 2701 Articles
My name is Moniek and I am from the Netherlands. I began this website in 2013 because I wanted to share these women's amazing stories.

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