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Foreign Policy: Once Upon A Time In Tehran

Tehran University students lounge in 1971. Tehran University was opened to women in 1934, when the college was founded, which was well before most universities in the United States were integrating women into the classroom. Kaveh Farrokh/foreignpolicy.com hide caption

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Kaveh Farrokh/foreignpolicy.com

Tehran University students lounge in 1971. Tehran University was opened to women in 1934, when the college was founded, which was well before most universities in the United States were integrating women into the classroom.

Kaveh Farrokh/foreignpolicy.com

Kaveh Farrokh is an historian and is the author of Shadows in the Desert: Ancient Persia at War.

When Westerners think of Iran today, images of women wearing chadors, American flags burning, and militant crowds shouting nationalistic slogans often come to mind. But those who have memories of Tehran in the 1960s and 1970s paint a very different portrait of Iranian life.

Before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the country's capital was a cultural vanguard. The New York Times notes, "Until the revolution, Iran was among the most cultured, cosmopolitan countries in the region. It had a progressive movement in art and literature and a sophisticated film and television industry." Its education system welcomed both women and men, and jet-setting Tehrani urbanites headed to midcentury modern ski chalets in the Alborz Mountains. Kaveh Farrokh, now an author living in Canada, remembers summers as a young man spent in the city watching American movies at high-end cinemas and lounging at the cutting-edge airport.

Life was not an idyll for all Iranians, however. Social and economic inequalities under the Shah of Iran created incredible want for some and a world of plenty for others. These tensions contributed to the 1979 overthrow of the shah's government and the Islamic revolution that shapes the country to this day.

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