Birthing this book has taken much longer than nine months. Quite literally, I lived the experience of pregnancy, loss, and birth as I researched and wrote about the history of reproduction. Although my speed of scholarly production slowed to a snail’s pace, my capacity to understand children and to appreciate motherhood grew enormously. This newfound insight has informed my research into the historical scope of mothering and women’s health in Iran. I began to reconsider my perspectives on feminism and the often bifurcated identities of women as professional or domestic. In this soul-searching process I recognized that women did not (and could not) realistically separate their lives so neatly into distinct categories. My analysis of maternalism and of the history of Iranian women reflects this important reality.
I began this project more than a decade ago as a study on hygiene. This approach made sense to me for two reasons. First, hygienic literature was prevalent in the form of popular advice to families in the expanding Persian press. Second, it addressed women’s reproductive health in a colloquial and accessible way, providing a unique perspective on the social lives of Iranian women and men. Although other facets of women’s health care did not receive nearly the same level of attention in the available literature (manuscripts, press articles, lithographed books), modernist discussions of mothering and reproduction revealed the ways in which gender impinged upon the management of health care in Iran. I learned in the process that popular perceptions of health, healing, and personal hygiene revealed a great deal about the social history of Iran and the Middle East.
I have centered my study on women’s health and reproductive politics over a century-long period and chronicled issues that concerned maternalists (that is, proponents of reproduction, maternal health, and child care). I have also analyzed the ways in which activists confronted other social and political issues such as women’s propriety, sexuality, suffrage, employment, and education. The debates concerning women’s health did not occur in a