Global and Iranian history are both closely intertwined with the lives and destinies of prominent figures. Every one of them has laid a brick on history’s wall, sometimes paying the price with their lives, men and women alike. Women have been especially influential in the past 200 years, writing much of contemporary Iranian history.
In Iran, women have increased public awareness about gender discrimination, raised the profile of and improved women’s rights, fought for literacy among women, and promoted the social status of women by counteracting religious pressures, participating in scientific projects, being involved in politics, influencing music, cinema… And so the list goes on.
This series aims to celebrate these renowned and respected Iranian women. They are women who represent the millions of women that influence their families and societies on a daily basis. Not all of the people profiled in the series are endorsed by IranWire, but their influence and impact cannot be overlooked. The articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
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An Iranian citizen journalist, who writes under a pseudonym to protect her identity, wrote the following article on the ground inside Iran.
When Effat Tejaratchi flew solo for the first time, there was no headline in any Iranian newspaper that read: “The first Iranian woman soars over the sky!” But she had recorded the moment on the back page of her copy of a book of Hafez poems, a close companion for many Iranians. “Today for the first time I flew solo,” she wrote. “What an unforgettable moment!”
There is no general agreement about who the first Iranian male pilot was, but there is no disputing that Effat Tejaratchi was Iran’s first female pilot. A simple classified advertisement changed her life, turning her from a translator into an aviator.
Tejaratchi was born in 1917. After graduating from high school in 1934 she started work as a French translator, first for the National Bank and then for the library of Tehran’s Medical School. But ever since childhood she had dreamed of becoming a pilot.
The dream would have remained just a dream were it not for the fact that great social changes were taking place in Iran, especially in securing minimum rights for women.
In 1925, Reza, the first Pahlavi king, took charge of the country, and very soon, he assumed dictatorial powers. Defying religious authorities and violent protests by traditionalists, he banned the traditional hejab and after a visit to Turkey under Kemal Atatürk, which impressed him enormously, he embarked on implementing new reforms and creating new institutions in an effort to modernize Iranian society. As part of this, the Iranian Aero Club was founded in 1939.
On November 7, 1939 mass-circulation newspapers printed an advertisement from the club inviting prospective pilots. Effat Tejaratchi saw the ad and immediately went to the offices of the club to register. When she found out that no woman had done so before her, she became intimidated and went home.
But then her father intervened. “When I got home and told my father about it, he was mystified. ‘Why didn’t you register to become a pilot?’ he asked,” Tejaratchi wrote in her memoirs. “I replied that no woman had volunteered for this. ‘What is wrong with you becoming the first Iranian woman pilot?’ my father replied.”
Her father’s encouragement inspired her to go to the club the next day and register as the first woman volunteer. “When the officials of the club saw that I was volunteering to become a pilot they were amazed and praised me,” she wrote. “The press also applauded me and presented the story with pride.”
The news encouraged other women to register, and their training began. “After a ceremony at Doushan Tappeh [the airfield near Tehran], they give us a bundle which included a special headgear, a pilot topcoat, a headphone to talk to the instructor, a belt and a parachute,” she remembered “To start with, the instructor taught us how to use the equipment. I have to point out that the outfit was baggy and ill-fitting for women since until then they had made them only for men. But after a few sessions we made our own and wore them. On that day each of us got into a simple plane with our instructors and had a short sportive flight.”
Tejaratchi’s enthusiasm and natural talent made her the first to qualify for a solo flight, which took place November 18, 1940. She piloted a DH-82 Tiger Moth, a popular trainer aircraft, by herself. “I was in the air for 15 minutes,” she wrote. “I flew around the airfield and landed where I had taken off. All those present were keen to see how I took off and how I controlled the plane, especially my instructors, who were obsessively observing me to see the results of the training. Fortunately their troubles bore fruit and I passed the test with my head high.” She and her fellow female trainees went on to learn more complicated maneuvers.
She was 23 at the time.
But soon, other events intervened, interrupting Tejaratchi and her fellow pilots’ progress. In August 1941, Britain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran through a massive air, land, and naval assault. Reza Shah had declared neutrality in World War II and had refused to allow Iranian territory and railways to serve the Soviet Union.
The Allies forced Reza Shah to abdicate. With his abdication, many projects were abandoned, including the Aero Club.
After the club was shut down, Effat Tejaratchi married Dr. Mehdi Fayaz-Manesh and moved to the provinces.
A few years later, with the end of World War Ii, her husband encouraged her to return to flying. The Iranian Royal Air Force hired her as a flight officer and until a short time before the Islamic Revolution of 1979, she was the director of Aero Club. She had three children, one of which is now an airplane engineer in the U.S.
After retirement, Effat Tejaratchi busied herself with writing poetry and her memoirs. She died in 1999 at the age of 87, a few days after the death of her husband.
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