Doctor Marzieh Arfaei (b. 1901) was the first woman to hold the rank of General in the Iranian military. She was born in Istanbul, five years before the Qajar King, Muzaffar el-Din Shah, reluctantly accepted the revolutionaries’ demands for a constitutional monarchy.
Marzieh graduate from the Medical School in Istanbul in 1929 and for two years worked as a pediatrician and gynecologist. During her time away, Reza Shah overthrew the Qajar dynasty and worked on modernizing Iran. As part of that effort, he banned the veil and changed marriage laws, which clerics and conservatives in the society vehemently opposed.
After returning to Iran, Marizeh worked as a physician for the Ministry of Health and was put in charge of two wards at the Pahlavi Hospital in Tehran. Eventually, she was appointed the Head of the Women’s Army school until the army hired her as a physician where she began to work in military hospitals. For many years, she also trained young women who wanted to become paramedics.
In 1933, Reza Shah ordered that she be given the rank of Captain in Iran’s Imperial Army. After hard work and moving up the ranks, she was promoted to Brigadier-General by the order of Reza Shah’s son, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
Marzieh retired from the army in 1962 after serving for 30 years. She died in 1979 right before the success of the Islamic revolution and a regime that rolled back much of the progress made by women.