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On the Origins of Feminism in Early 20th-century Iran Janet Afary The Persian women since 1907 had become almost at a bound the most progressive, not to say radical, in the world. Thai this statement upsets the ideas of centuries makes no difference. Il is the fact. . . . During the five years following the successful but bloodless revolution in 1906 against the oppressions and cruelty of Muzaffaru'd-Din Shah, a feverish and at times fierce light has shone in the veiled eyes of Persia s women, and in their struggle for liberty and its modern expressions, lhey broke through some of the most sacred customs which for centuries past have bound their sex in the land of Iran. Morgan Shuster, 1912 The first decade of the 20th century is often associated with the birth of the socialist women's movement in the United States and Europe. In the U.S., we trace the origins of International Working Women's Day to the New York garment workers' strike of 1908. In Germany, Clara Zetkin headed the mass women's organization of the German Social Democracy (SPD) to which Rosa Luxemburg also made significant contributions. In Russia, after the 1905 Revolution, an important socialist women's movement emerged, in which Alexandra Kollontai played a prominent role. Yet a deeper look in that same decade in parts of Latin America, Africa, and Asia reveals the growing participation of women in a number of national and social uprisings.1 Especially in Japan, China, and Iran, we see women not only playing a distinct part in the social movements of the period, but also articulating specifically feminist and socialist demands as the movement progresses. In Japan, after the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, which ended in Russian defeat and the subsequent Russian Revolution of 1905, socialist women involved in the Japanese antiwar movement became increasingly vocal as feminists. Fukuda Hideko, a widow and mother of three children, established the socialist feminist organ, Women of the World, between the years 1907-09 that fought against polygyny, prostitution, and women's exclusion from politics.2 In China, the ardent nationalist Qiu Jin introduced feminist issues to the movement. In a moving essay, written © 1989 JOURNAL OF WOMEN'S HISTORY, VOL. 1 NO. 2 (FALL)____________________ I wish to thank Paul Sprackman and Mohamad Tavakoli-Targhi at the Near East Collection of the University of Chicago, and David Beasley at the New York Public Library who facilitated the research for this paper. Earlier drafts of this paper were presented at the 1987 American Historical Association (AHA) meeting in Washington , D.C., and the 1988 joint meeting of Western Association of Women Historians and the American Historical Association-Pacific Coast Branch conference in San Francisco. I am grateful for the comments of Kevin Anderson, Beth Baron, Nikki Keddie, Susan Mann, and Karen Offen who read drafts of the paper and made helpful suggestions. 66 Journal of Women's History Fall in the faU of 1904, she insisted that "we, the two hundred million women of China, are the most unfairly treated objects on this earth." She wrote of fathers who upon birth of a daughter would curse her by saying "oh, what an ill-omened day, here's another useless one." And she complained bitterly of the prevalent tradition of footbinding that tormented young girls for years. Qiu Jin joined Sun Yat Sen's Chinese nationalist group and was later executed when an insurrection she partidpated in failed.3 In Iran, a new radical women's movement, composed of semisecret women's councils called women's anjumans, emerged during the Constitutional Revolution of 1906-11. The story of the women's anjumans was first publicized to the outside world by Morgan Shuster, the young American financial advisor to the new government, in his The Strangling of Persia (1912). Shuster, who on several occasions during his stay had been aided by the women's anjumans, referred to the contribution of these anjumans to the revolutionary cause with much admiration, writing, "what shall we say of the veiled women of the Near East who overnight become teachers, newspaper writers, founders of women's clubs and speakers on political subjects?" He...


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