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 last 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. These articles are biographical stories that consider the lives of influential women in Iran.
Touran Mirhadi, a pioneer of children’s literature, writer and educator figure, worked for more than 60 years in general and children’s education, especially in the promoting of literature, and was one of Iran’s most prominent cultural figures.
And if an illness had not prevented Mirhadi, late in her life, those who worked at No. 31, Vahid Nazari Street in Tehran’s District 11, would still hear her quiet steps arriving to carefully oversee the publication of the next volume of the Encyclopaedia for Young People, which had been published for more than 40 years through her unceasing efforts.
Touran Mirhadi was born in 1927 in Shemiran, Tehran. Her father, a mechanical engineer, married Greta Dietrich, a well-known German artist, while studying in Germany. Mirhadi owed her interest in the lives of children and adolescents to her painter and sculptor mother. In Iran, Greta saw children dying of contagious diseases and, in order to protect her children, she took them to Shemiran every summer and looked after them in a large tent in the ancestral gardens of her husband's family.
Touran was born in that tent. Her mother was her and her siblings’ first teacher. In addition to Persian, she also taught her children German. Touran was then placed under the instruction of a French-speaking teacher, learning her third language, until she went to Nurbakhsh School, where she learnt English.
After graduating from high school, Touran went to Tehran University to study biology. But encountering university lecturers such as Mohammad Baqer Houshyar changed her mind and prompted her to study education.
This was why, during the outrageous days after the Second World War, and despite her father's discomfort, Touran went to Paris to study child psychology and pre-school education at Sorbonne University. Her life in post-war France came with many hardships as European cities were in ruins and in the early process of being rebuilt.
Touran worked as a laborer in those rebuilding projects until her graduation and return to Iran. On her return, she learned of the tragic death of her younger brother, Farhad, in a car accident. Her family was in deep sorrow at the loss.
Touran – who had returned to Iran filled with ideas – turned that sorrow into opportunity just as she had learned to do from her mother. She decided to open a new kind of school in Tehran, calling it Farhad School; many Iranians remember it today. Touran said of the school: "My only goal was to prove that Iranian children have a remarkable intellectual power and, with the right education, they can fully develop their talents and abilities.”
The first section of the school, called Farhad Kindergarten, was inaugurated after the birth of Piruz, Touran’s first son. But the Farhad Kindergarten – and Piruz – were hardly a year old when Touran’s husband, Major Jafar Vakili, passed away.
Touran’s turned her grief at losing her husband into another asset in her efforts to expand Farhad Kindergarten. Two years later, with the support of her parents and, later, her second husband, Mohsen Khomarlu, she turned the school into one of the most famous schools of Tehran. Touran also wrote a workbook, Tutor and Child, based on her training in French kindergartens as well as her experiences at Farhad School.
Her school grew – as did the number parents who registered their children for its classes. Turn was invited to appear and consult on special councils which were studying the meaning of childhood in the late 1960s.
The concept of childhood had entered world literature in the 19th century and had come to attention in Iran during the constitutional movement in the early 20th century. But it was after the Second World War, in the 1940s and later, that “childhood” as an educational idea spread further in Iran, through the efforts of great teachers such as Jabar Baghcheban and Touran’s own teacher Baqer Houshyar.
During the second half of the 1950s, Touran, with Leyli Iman, Masumeh Sohrab, Touran Eshtiyaqi and many other educated women, wanted to strengthen the foundations of childhood instruction, using the experience of the first generation activists in this field. They regarded reading and teaching as the main principle of education. That is why, while changing the educational system, they were also active in literature.
They encouraged major publishers to publish children’s books; and by raising the issue with the government, Touran and the other educators received approval to establish the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults, which was one of Iran’s most prominent and effective cultural institutions during the reign of Muhammad Reza Shah.
However, the institute alone could not fulfil the literary needs of children and adolescents. There were few original books for children at the time – there had to be a center to encourage writers to write especially for children. Once again, Touran, together with a number of friends, went into action.
In an interview, Touran referred to that time as becoming the impetus to establish the Children's Book Council. “In 1955 when Farhad School was founded, we faced a great lack of reading material for preschool and school children. There were only a handful of children's books. So we held a book exhibition in the Fine Arts Faculty, in 1956, with the aim of showing how few books for children existed. We held two other exhibitions, in 1958 and 1960. The exhibitions helped us to understand in which specific areas we lacked children’s books. This motivated a number of lecturers, who were teaching children's literature, to attend the various sessions we held at Farhad School. Finally, in January 1962, together with Morteza Momayez, Leyli Iman, Abdolrahim Ahmadi, and Mahafarin Adamiyat, we wrote the charter of the Children's Book Council and established the Council with the help of 40 other people."
The idea of the Encyclopaedia for Young People came from this Children's Book Council. Compiling material for the encyclopaedia began in 1979; at the beginning, only five people worked on the publication, while today more than 300 people participate in the work.
This encyclopedia, to be ultimately published in 24 volumes, exists purely thanks to by Touran Mirhadi's relentless efforts and without any help from the government. Today it is one of the most vital works produced for children in Iran.
Touran also participated in editing two textbooks on social science, history, geography, and theology, called, "Social Science and Theology for Elementary Fourth Grade" and "A Glance at Children's Literature."
In the last years of her life, Touran continued to oversee the compilation of the encyclopaedia from home despite advanced age and illness.
Touran was repeatedly nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen Reward by the International Board on Books for Young Children, based in Switzerland, and other prestigious literary awards.
Touran Mirhadi died in hospital on November 8, 2016, from a stroke.