This article sketches a history of Iran’s early girls’ school movement and examines its origins, goals, curricular content, and relationship to the state. It revises the tendency in the existing scholarship on modern education and reform to credit the Pahlavi state as the initiator of female education. Specifically, I argue that modern-style girls’ schooling did not begin in the 1920s with the founding of statesponsored girls’ schools of the late Qajar and early Riza Shah era, but in an earlier period under the auspices of indigenous religio-ethnic minorities and Muslims. The Riza Shah era was an important phase of a longer-term trend that placed both state support and propaganda behind the early twentieth-century girls’ school movement. But it was the founders of the first modern Iranian girls’ schools who had already made important decisions in framing the structure, content, and organization of these schools. The study is based primarily on the memoirs of Iranian educators, the writings of foreign observers in Iran active in Iranian education circles, and Persian-language press sources.

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