In Jordan’s time, Iran was beset by Russian and British imperial aspirations, and many Iranians sought to buttress their country’s independence by drawing a third power into the balance. These Iranians saw the US as well-suited for this role because it then had no obvious imperial designs in the region.


JORDAN, SAMUEL MARTIN (known in Iran as Dr. Jordan; b. near Stewartstown, Pennsylvania, 6 January 1871; d. Los Angeles, CA, 21 June 1952; Figure 1), teacher, Presbyterian minister, missionary, founder and president of the American College of Tehran (later Alborz College; q.v). The son of James Cowden Jordan and Mary Rosanna Mitchell, Jordan was named after his famous clergyman great-grandfather, Samuel Martin, and grew up on his parents’ farm. Educated in one-room schoolhouses, he prepared for college at Stewartstown’s English and Classical Institute. He then taught school for three or four years before entering Lafayette College, Easton, Pennsylvania, in 1891, where he excelled at athletics as well as academics. After earning his degree at Lafayette, he studied at both Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary, where he earned a divinity degree in 1898. Ordained a Presbyterian minister on 30 August 1898, he served the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions (PCUSA) as an educator in Iran from 1898 until he retired to Los Angeles in 1941.

Arguably the most influential American in the history of US relations with Iran, Jordan’s career spanned Iran’s transformation from a weak state in the Qajar years—when the country was powerless in the face of European ambitions—to the centralizing strength of the modern Iranian state created by Reza Shah Pahlavi. Although as a Christian missionary his purpose was to spread the Gospel of Jesus, he was in fact a strong and effective advocate for the development of modern institutions, based upon both Iran’s own history as well as the adoption of American methods of education, administration and communication (see below).

In Jordan’s time, Iran was beset by Russian and British imperial aspirations, and many Iranians sought to buttress their country’s independence by drawing a third power into the balance. These Iranians saw the US as well-suited for this role because it then had no obvious imperial designs in the region, and because of the expertise shown by American Presbyterian missionaries in Iran, private citizens who made clear both their independence from the US government and their willingness to accept Iranian sovereignty (see IRAN ii/2).

Jordan retired before the Anglo-Russian invasion of August 1941, after Reza Shah nationalized all foreign schools (see also ALBORZ COLLEGE). He died before the August 1953 Anglo-American coup d’état (q.v.). which transformed Iran’s foreign policy from Cold War neutrality—consistent with the policies both of Qajar kings and Reza Shah, to oppose equally Russia and Britain in order to achieve Iran’s interests—into a firm alliance with Washington. That alliance, of course, sharply changed the nature of the US-Iranian relationship, as America succeeded Britain as the primary Western anti-Russian power (see GREAT BRITAIN iv-v.; CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE AGENCY).


The mission to which Jordan committed his life grew out of the early experience of the American republic. Long before 1776, America had a robustly diverse and politically active religious life. The dominant Protestant religious groups disagreed with each other sharply, and therefore Americans evolved a doctrine of separation of church and state, in order to maintain civic peace among the denominations and to ensure them all that no particular sect would control the government against other religions. This policy also meant legal equality for non-Protestants. During the early years of US independence, too, Protestants participated in waves of religious enthusiasm featuring widespread desire to preach the gospel of Jesus to all humanity. Thus began the American missionary movement, establishing many missions both at home and abroad during the 19th century (Armajani; Heuser, pp. xxi-xxv; Zirinsky, 1993a).

The mission to Iran began in 1829 when the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions sent an expedition to explore eastern Anatolia and western Azerbaijan. In 1834 the Board established at Urmia a Mission to the Nestorians, hoping to stimulate the Church of the East again to become a major missionary force (Heuser, p. 71).

The Iranian government welcomed this mission on condition that Muslims not be proselytized. The mission became a sectarian force, competing with the Nestorian Old Church as well as with other missionary groups, including French, British, Russian, and German. According to contemporary European views, the Americans were rich, and their schools and medical facilities encouraged many Iranians to flock to their church. The American appeal was so strong, for example, that Iranian Jews approached the Paris-based Alliance Israëlite Universelle to establish French Jewish schools, so that western education-seeking Jews would not be tempted by the Christian faith on display in American schools (AIU; CM).

As in other fields, there were three kinds of American missionaries: preachers, teachers, and medical workers. Although the entire missionary enterprise was advertised as an evangelical effort to Americans who financed their operations, in practice preachers were less prominent in Iran than were educators and medical personnel. Evangelists talked; educators, physicians and nurses, however, regarded practical service as the best way to demonstrate their faith, and Iranians flocked to their schools and hospitals (Zirinsky, 2002b).

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, the mission was radically transformed. In 1871 the American Board transferred its responsibility to the New York-based Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, which renamed the enterprise the Persia Mission and opened stations throughout northern Iran, in Tehran (1872), Tabriz (1873), Hamadān (1880), Rašt (1906), Qazvin (1906), Kermānšāh (1910), and Mashad (1911). Because of logistical difficulties, in 1883 the Board of Foreign Missions (BFM) divided the mission into two fields: Urmia and Tabriz constituting West Persia and the other stations as East Persia. The two were reunited as the Persia Mission in 1931 and in 1935 renamed the Iran Mission, in deference to Iranian government wishes. Formally dissolved in 1960, BFM transferred its properties to the Iranian Evangelical Church, which the mission had nurtured and with which American Presbyterians remained in communion (Heuser, 71).

Although many Americans worked in Iran after 1829, the US had no diplomatic representation until 1883 (Saleh, pp. 235-57). Until then American interests were represented by Britain, and Anglo-American relations in Iran remained close afterwards. The Presbyterian mission cooperated with its British counterpart in southern Iran. In 1895 the mission negotiated a cartel-like Comity Agreement with the Isfahan-based Anglican mission, partitioning Iran between them roughly along lines later adopted by British and Russian diplomats in 1907 and 1915 (CMS, PE G2 PE/L2, p. 213; /P2 1895, p. 32; and /O 1895, p. 105; PHS, RG 81-13-20). This was the enterprise to which Samuel Jordan committed his working life.


The boy, it is said, is father to the man. Jordan’s college experience reflected his personality and shaped his future. At Lafayette he joined the Franklin Literary Society and the Young Men’s Christian Association. Like many Y-men of his generation he was moved by hearing missionaries on furlough describe their work. According to his colleague Arthur Boyce—also a Lafayette graduate—Jordan decided to become a missionary during his first term at college, as a way he could do the most good, for the greatest number, for the longest time (Boyce, p. 159). He was elected president of his class and captain of the football team, on which he played center for three years. Although not the heaviest or the tallest among his team-mates, Jordan may have been the most colorful. A contemporary description of him preserved in the Lafayette College Archives slyly notes, “Jordan is a something, 22 years old, 6 feet 1 inch high, and weighs 175 pounds. It is noted for its marked resemblance to a human being, and has been designated by scientists as a ministerial student. It is a member of Frank[lin] Hall, is a Presbyterian and a Republican. The size of its foot is 8 1/2, it wears a 7 1/8 hat before a football game, but requires a 10 a few moments later. He is better known in College as Stud-horse.” Jordan’s charismatic character, reflected here, shaped his career as a missionary (Lafayette College Archives).

After completing his undergraduate degree in 1895, Jordan entered Princeton Theological Seminary to continue preparation for the ministry, and he worked toward an M.A. at Princeton University while doing so. In 1898 he completed his theology degree, married and was ordained a Presbyterian Minister. He met his wife, Mary Wood Park, daughter of Presbyterian clergyman Charles H. Park, while an undergraduate at Lafayette; she had been a teacher at her brother’s private school in the town. On 17 September 1898 the Jordans sailed from New York for Iran. They arrived in Tehran on 2 November 1898, having made the last legs of their journey by boat to Anzali, astride horses in a caravan from Rašt to Qazvin, and by horse-drawn carriage from Qazvin to Tehran. For the next 42 years the Jordans were an inseparable team in Iranian missionary educational work (Boyce, pp. 160-63).


On arrival in Tehran the mission appointed Jordan principal of its Boys’ School (established 1872), which at that time had fewer than 150 elementary pupils. Over the next decades Jordan built it into a college. By 1902 it went through the tenth grade and by 1913 Jordan had it expanded to include the entire high school curriculum through grade twelve. By 1925 it was the American College of Tehran. Jordan chose the name so that its acronym would spell ACT; even in such a detail he wanted to teach Iranian boys how to be modern men. Indeed, Jordan enjoyed the story that people said of his school that it was “a factory which makes men” (BFM, Memorial Minute). In 1928 the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York granted ACT a charter to award B.A. degrees. By 1940, when the Iranian government nationalized the school, Alborz College had 850 students, graduated 106 from its junior college program, and granted twenty B.A.s—including four to women (Wysham, p. 13; Boyce, p. 215).

Jordan spent much of his time and energy as college president seeking private American financial and staff support. He had much success, recruiting excellent instructors, some of whom went on to become college presidents in their own right, and raising funds for a new college campus. He bought more than forty acres outside the city wall in 1913, near the Yusefābād gate. On this land he built the college’s new facilities, a main building containing more than 50,000 square feet of floor space, erected in 1924-25 by a gift from Oklahoma oil magnate A. A. Rollestone, a science building donated by Mrs. William Moore of New York, as well as dormitories and athletics facilities. Jordan consciously tried to blend traditional Iranian architecture with modern needs, and the result were buildings in what he called the Persian-Saracenic (sic) style (Boyce, pp. 176-87; Jordan, p. 347).


Jordan was an enthusiastic publicist, and he made clear that he sought to blend Iran’s traditions with American energy and know-how. “Take the best the country has,” he wrote in 1935, “make it better than it has ever been before, and then add to it the best we have to give.” He deliberately sought out as students children of “the leading men of the country, boys who, whether educated or not, would be in future years among the rulers,” and he sought to convince Iranians of “America’s sincere and unselfish desire for their welfare . . . to create a nation of hearty goodwill” (Jordan, pp. 347-49).

Dr. Jordan’s methods of education reflected his own experience and ideals. He sought to instill in Iran what he called the equality of men and women. “By having Mrs. Jordan and the wives of other faculty members teach in the College, we have convinced these sons of nobles that girls too can be educated,” he wrote in 1935. “By the example of husbands and wives working together, and by definite teaching, we have convinced our students the young men are insisting on educated wives, who can be real helpmates, friends, and confidants” (Jordan, pp. 349-50). Jordan’s former student Yahya Armajani—the first Iranian ordained in the Evangelical Church of Iran, a man who went on to teach at Alborz after earning a history doctorate at Princeton University and who later taught for decades at Macalaster College, St. Paul, Minnesota—recalled in 1974 that virtually all of Mary Park Jordan’s students memorized the sentence, “No country rises higher than the level of the women of that country, and practically every student had to write a composition on the subject” (Armajani, pp. 33-34).

Mrs. Jordan seems to have been a traditional, self-effacing American wife of the Victorian era, but in action she was revolutionary. Teaching both English and music in the men’s college, she advised the Iranian Ministry of Education in the production of its English-language text-books, and she maintained close contacts with Iranian women who sought to improve the position of their gender in society. On hearing a rumor that the čādor was to be outlawed she wrote in Women and Missions, that this garment was no hindrance to education or progress, though resented by some men and women as a badge of ignorance and servitude, and an insult to the men of Persia. She enthusiastically quoted an Iranian feminist leader, “We are working for the lifting of the veil of ignorance and superstition. The removal of the chuddar is of no great importance” (Mary Jordan, pp. 300-301).

Yet she mostly remained behind the scenes, overshadowed in public by her husband. As the memorial minute adopted by the BFM after her death noted, “In modern mission history there have probably been few more perfect teams than Dr. and Mrs. Jordan. Her quiet ways, her gentleness of speech and manner, her tact and thoughtfulness were the perfect complement for his vigorous personality. She called him ‘Sahib’ but everyone knew that this frail-looking lady quietly steered her sometimes headstrong husband in the way she knew he should go” (BFM, Memorial Minute, 6 March 1954).

At Jordan’s urging, Annie Stocking Boyce also taught at Alborz. Her primary work had been to teach at the girls’ school, Iran Bethel, later known as Nurbaḵš, and she is best known as founder and editor of ʿĀlam-e neswān, one of Iran’s first journals written by and intended to be read by women. In 1948 she recalled that although she had done some teaching at Alborz she felt that her main work in helping her husband was to make their home a place where students, alumni and friends were welcome. They did much entertaining of students and whenever possible, their mothers. In 1936 she explained in her personal report to the BFM that knowing the boys personally was even more important than looking after their physical wants, and that two evenings a week they entertained the boys at dinner in the big dining room, practically every boy three times during the year (PHS, RG 91-18-11; RG 91-7-3).

Dr. Jordan believed in the value of athletic activity to shape character. How do you teach people to cooperate, he asked, how do you teach them to play the game? Obviously by playing games. So he introduced football, baseball, volleyball, and basketball into the curriculum, and the boys took to them. Perhaps most remarkably, he had his boys construct the football field on which they later played. One day during the Great War he bought a mule-load of shovels and had the dormitory residents carry them past the home of the prime minister and other grandees to the new, bare school grounds where he led them in several hours of good hard work. Afterwards he told them that he trusted they understood what they had done. He wanted it to go down in the history of the college that the first work on the new campus was not done by peasants receiving twenty cents a day for their labor but rather by the students of the college themselves, boys who wished to show by action as well as by words that a new era had come to Iran, and that henceforth any kind of work of service to humanity was honorable (Boyce, p. 198). This football field remains a major feature of the Alborz campus.

Jordan believed in the value of outdoor exercise and established a summer camp in the foothills of the Alborz Mountains in 1911. There he organized the first Iranian Boy Scout troop and led them on long, fast hikes, six to twenty miles out and back, striding at four and five miles an hour. Arthur Boyce remembered their most famous hike, climbing Mt. Damāvand in 1914. There were about twenty climbers, teachers and older students. Mrs. Jordan and others accompanied the party to a point “about 3,000 feet higher than Pike’s Peak and waited there for the climbers to return. Only nine of the twenty actually reached the crater” (Boyce, p. 197). In 1921 The National Geographic Magazine published photographs of Jordan leading his Scouts on a hike in the Alborz and of his party sitting atop Damāvand in 1914; Jordan wore his Lafayette College letter sweater for the latter occasion, a pith helmet perched upon his head (Bird, pp. 398-99).

Jordan also had his students undertake relief work among the poor, to assist where assistance was needed, but also to teach social responsibility. One remarkable document survives from 1918, a long letter written by Boys’ School senior Soltān Maḥmud Khan to the editor of Raʿad, sent by Jordan to the BFM office in New York on 4 April. Six of the fourteen seniors in the school were assigned to assist in organizing the distribution of help. They witnessed appalling scenes. “The first house that we visited—if the word house can be applied to it, for it was more like the fire pit of a bath house than a house, was the dwelling place of three families. A young man of twenty-five, almost naked and destitute of all things needful, was fallen down in one corner with typhoid fever. In one corner toward the sunshine a number of little children were creeping on the floor and begging their mother for bread. The mother was sitting beside her son weeping and wailing because she had no medicine or even food to give him.”

Another family presented an even more heart-rending sight: a mother with three children who five days earlier had given birth to a fourth child. According to this woman, the new birth provided food for all her children, “The milk that belongs to this little one I have drawn from my breasts [she said] and have divided it among the other three children” (PHS, RG 91-25-2).

These efforts were made in the midst of a famine which Nikki Keddie believes may have killed over a million of Iran’s ca. 11 million inhabitants, primarily in the north (Keddie, p. 75, citing J. M Balfour, Recent Happenings in Persia, Edinburgh, 1922, p. 3). Contemporary rumors suggested that wealthy speculators exacerbated the famine by hoarding grain. The relief efforts of the Boys’ School seniors is said to have fed thousands of people (Armajani, pp. 31-32).

Arthur Boyce noted the danger of this work in his account of the famine. Relief-workers were exposed to disease. Rev. and Mrs. Douglas of the Tehran Mission caught typhus. Mrs. Douglas recovered, but Mr. Douglas died. In July 1918, Dr. Jordan also came down with typhus. For a month he was too ill to be moved from the heat of the city. Not until September could he return to work (Boyce, p. 206).


Long after his death, Dr. Jordan is remembered fondly and with great respect by the many Iranians whose lives he touched. More than just a fond memory, Jordan shaped Iranian lives and policies.

A vignette of Jordan’s work is provided by Sattareh Farman Farmaian, who studied at the mission’s schools and earned a B.A. from Alborz in 1940. After graduate training at the University of Southern California, guided there by Dr. Jordan’s advice, she established the profession of social work in Iran. She remembered Jordan as “a tall, twinkling-eyed man with a cherubic face and a small, comical beard who . . . looked upon our coun-try as his own home and was as eager as any Persian for Iran to become strong and self-sufficient. . . . He especially wanted us to be able to stand up to foreign inter-ference. . . . “ Jordan’s lessons, she wrote, were not “about turning the other cheek. Always look a problem straight in the eye,’ he would exhort my brothers, ‘and don’t go running off to find somebody bigger, like me, to protect you. That just gives the other fellow the idea that he can push you around. If you men show everyone that you can take care of yourselves, the cowards and bullies of this world will keep off you.’ “ (Farman Farmaian, pp. 73-74).

Sattareh Farman Farmaian was by no means the only graduate of Jordan’s school to have an important impact on Iran’s subsequent development. ʿAli-AsÂḡar Ḥekmat (q.v.), a 1918 graduate of the American High School who later took a degree at the Sorbonne, went on to be Minister of Education (1933-38). During his tenure in that post he supervised the development of a country-wide renovation of education, culminating in the establishment in 1935 of Tehran University, over which he presided as first rector until 1938. As part of this renovation he introduced physical education into the public school curriculum, revived the Boy Scout movement earlier begun by Jordan, and initiated construction of the country’s first modern sports stadium, Amjadiya. During and after the Second World War he held several ministerial posts, serving twice as foreign minister. In this office he urged the shah to engage diplomatically with Moscow in order to reduce reliance on Washington. Dr. Jordan was proud of Ḥekmat’s accomplishments and maintained excellent relations with him (Young, p. 381).

Another graduate of the American High School class of 1918 was Abu’l Qāsem Baḵtiār, a villager from Borujen, Čahār Maḥāl, who first came to Tehran in 1912 as tutor to the children of Ṣamṣām-al-Salṭana. Although Abu’l-Qāsem was then over forty years old, he convinced Jordan to allow him to enroll as a “special student,” in the school—in part by agreeing to quit drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco and opium!—and he completed the 12-year program in six years, completing the 1914 conquest of Damāvand along the way. With other members of his class, he participated in relief efforts to mitigate the 1918 famine, about which his wife Helen later wrote their children that it was widely rumored that Ahmad Shah Qajar had cornered the wheat market (Bakhtiar 2002, p. 31). As a result of his work with the Near East Relief, and the encouragement of Dr. Jordan, Abu’l-Qāsem was able to travel to the US for further education, adopting the surname Bakhtiar before enrolling at Columbia University in 1920. He completed his B.A. at the University of South Dakota in 1923, then enrolled as a medical student at Syracuse which awarded his M.D. in 1926. After surgical training at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital, Dr. Bakhtiar and his family—he had married Idaho-born nurse Helen Jeffreys in 1927—returned to Iran, where he became professor of medicine at Tehran University and Dean of the Medical School. In 1940 he moved to Ābādān. He continued to practice medicine into his nineties, before dying in 1971 in Tehran at the age of 99. Of his life passage Helen Bakhtiar wrote their children, “Abol’s graduating from medical school is a classical success story in the Horatio Alger, ‘strive and succeed’ tradition. Had he been an American boy it would have been a remarkable story, but for an Iranian who was born in the place and time where he began his journey, it was a little less than a miracle.” In this near-miracle, of course, Dr. Jordan played no small part, as he did in the lives of hundreds of other Iranians (Bakhtiar 2002, pp. 29-33, 163, et passim; Bakhtiar, 2003).

Yet another enormously influential Iranian shaped by Dr. Jordan is Lotfi Zadeh, the Berkeley engineering professor who developed fuzzy logic. He entered Alborz in 1931 and went on to earn degrees from the University of Tehran in 1942, MIT in 1946 and a Ph.D. from Columbia in 1949, but unlike Dr Bakhtiar he chose to make his career in America. In 1999 Lotfi Zadeh described his schooling at Alborz after his family resettled in Tehran when he was 10 years old. His parents enrolled him in “this English language school which was under the administration of Presbyterian missionaries from America. I was deeply influenced by these people as they were extremely decent, fine, honest and helpful people. To me they represented the best that you could find in the United States-people from the Midwest with strong roots. They were really ‘Good Samaritans’-willing to give of themselves for the benefit of others. So this kind of attitude influenced me deeply. It also instilled in me a deep desire to live in the United States” (Blair, pp. 28-29).

Reading contemporary material published by and about Dr. Jordan might lead one to believe that he sycophantically supported the government of Reza Shah. This view is showcased by his 1935 description of the Tehran educational work. His students imbibed liberal ideas, he wrote, they agitated for reforms, cooperated with other forward-looking patriots and transformed the medieval despotism of thirty years earlier into what he called “the modern, progressive democracy of today” (Jordan, p. 353). Such a belief ignores the pressures under which Jordan worked.

Throughout the Reza Shah period the Iranian government pressed the mission to bend its educational work to Iranian national demands. In 1928, when the shah ended capitulations, the government regulated mission school curricula to ensure that all Muslim pupils received instruction in Islam and to protect Muslims from Christian proselytizing. Students had to take annual government exams, and those who passed the exam on completing secondary education were permitted to enroll in Officer Training School instead of serving two years in the regular army. In 1932 the Iranian government closed all foreign primary schools and insisted that remaining secondary schools take Iranian names. The American College of Tehran (ACT) then became Alborz College of Tehran. This pressure culminated in the 1939-1940 Iranian nationalization of all foreign schools for Iranians. Alborz survived, but as an Iranian government high school (Boyce, pp. 187-92, 208-15).

In dealing with these Iranian government initiatives, Jordan had to contend with less than complete US government support. In 1931 US Minister Charles Hart condemned proselytizing and regarded as untrue missionary denial that they sought Muslim converts. Missionaries, he wrote, sought to circumvent Iranian law by exactly the same methods used to violate the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act in America, “except that the glad hand is substituted for the machine gun;” Hart claimed to be shocked that Dr. Jordan went out of his way to deny that missionaries proselytized (Hart, Tehran, 7 Feb. 1931, D.359, USNA, RG59, 391.1164/30). Although Jordan wrote the following words in a different context, his annual report to the BFM for 1930-31, they may be taken as an answer to Hart’s accusation, “In any institution that is manned by earnest Christians the line between secular and religious activities is rather hard to determine” (PHS, RG 91-16-3). Jordan also believed, “In my opinion to do a little more than what is safe is always just right” (Wysham, p. 36).

Hart of course had to contend with Iranian government protests against anti-Muslim propaganda. Minister of Court Abd-al-Ḥosayn Taymurtāš asked Hart, “why send us preachers instead of teachers. . . . What would your Government and people think if we were to gather up a group of these dirty old mullahs you see around here and send them over to the United States to teach your people?” and went on to emphasize, “we must get rid of missionaries” (Hart, Tehran, 25 Aug. 1932, D.1214, USNA, RG59, 391.1164/52).

This pressure came to a head in 1933. After the Arab-Assyrian conflict following Britain’s termination of its Iraq mandate, and recalling the missionary role in stimulating Assyrian national consciousness in Iran during the Great War, the Iranian government insisted that the mission station at Urmia (Reżāʾiya) be closed. As Foreign Minister Moḥammad ʿAli Foruḡi (q.v.) told Dr. Jordan in the midst of the negotiation, “Assyrians are Assyrians to most people and they do not discriminate between the savage [Iraqi] mountaineers and the peaceful people of the Urumieh plain.” Yielding to pressure it could not oppose, the mission agreed to end its Urmia operations, accepting considerably less compensation for its property than it believed was fair market value. In return, the Iranian government recognized Alborz as comparable in status to the Iranian faculties of law, medicine, and education, which in 1935 were transformed into the Tehran University. This acknowledgment allowed Alborz students to be deferred from military service and its graduates to serve as military officers and government officials (Wads-worth, Tehran, 28 Dec. 1933, D.1607 and 10 Jan. 1934, D.1615; Speer to Murray, 20 Dec. 1933, USNA, RG59, 391.1163/46-48).

Jordan was fully aware of the excesses perpetrated by Reza Shah’s government, but understood that any open expression of disapproval would have endangered his work. After the 1937 murder in prison of their brother, former cabinet minister NosÂrat-al-Dawla Firuz, Sattareh Farman Farmaian and her brothers were treated sympathetically at school. Dr. Jordan called the brothers into his office at the boys’ school and told them, in his humorous way, to be extremely careful. Jordan told them that “all walls have mice, and the mice have ears—so even when you think nobody is in the room with you, watch out.” Sattareh Farman Farmaian recalled that she heeded this advice with her “lips pressed tightly together so as not to let any words break forth” (Farman Farmaian, p. 97).

But Jordan’s careful efforts to reconcile his liberal mission agenda with the Tehran government’s nationalist authoritarianism could not save the Presbyterian schools. The 1939 decree ordering the schools closed immediately was postponed in effect for a year, but in June 1940 all the schools were closed and Jordan soon left Iran, to retire officially on his 70th birthday, 6 January 1941 (Boyce, pp. 208-16).


How then to assess Jordan’s career in Iran? Above all else, he established a great school, a school which continues to prepare young Iranians for the future despite Reza Shah’s nationalization of it and despite the many changes since the Islamic revolution. Jordan’s career was an important part of Iran’s transformation from a poor, weak pawn in the Anglo-Russian Great Game, as it was in 1898, into a strong, self-reliant nation-state. As his missionary board put it when it took note of his death, “Samuel Martin Jordan was privileged to be a molding influence on a whole nation. A life such as his is a tonic to fearful souls today” (BFM, Memorial Minute).

His colleague William Wysham was amusingly clear about why the BFM described Jordan’s life as a tonic to fearful souls. He began his tribute by recalling the telegram he received from Jordan before his first journey to Tehran, “Transportation arranged from the border; bring three dozen footballs.” And Wysham summed up Jordan’s forthrightness in the following words. “There was nothing subtle about him; he drove straight toward his mark. Sometimes this caused difficulties. At the wheel of his car, he charged the miscellaneous traffic of Tehran’s crowded streets as he did the opposing line in his football days. But, on the whole, his example of a life purpose which found no obstacle too great was an inspiration to the boys he taught and guided” (Wysham, pp. 12, 36).

Dr. Jordan also played a major part in the rise of Iran’s close relationship with America. In part because of the picture of America that he conveyed to his students by actions and words, Iran turned toward America during World War II as a counter to British and Russian imperial aspirations, after hope of German assistance proved illusory. This in turn led to wartime US assistance missions, to US diplomatic support of Iran at the UN during the 1946 Iranian dispute with Stalin’s Russia over Azerbaijan and Kurdistan, and to prime minister Moḥammad MosÂaddeq’s 1951-53 hope that the US would support Iran in its efforts to nationalize the British Government-owned Iranian oil industry. The US government recognized Jordan’s appeal to Iranians, and sought to harness it. For this reason Washington had him make a wartime good-will visit to Iran, 15 October 1944-9 March 1945, in support of American occupation of the country in alliance with Britain and Russia. His activities included two February 1945 audiences with Mohammed Reza Shah (Boyce, p. 227).

In retirement in southern California the Jordans attracted Iranians and others who appreciated his work in Iran. Arthur Boyce noted in his tribute to them that their small bungalow in Pacific Home, Los Angeles, became “a little Iran.” Dr. Jordan did much speaking, Boyce wrote, particularly about Iran and the work of the Mission there (Boyce, pp. 216-17). Among those who visited Dr. and Mrs. Jordan were Jahānšāh Ṣāleḥ, who saw them shortly before Jordan’s death (Wysham, p. 13), and Mohammed Reza Shah, who made a point of receiving the Jordans at the Los Angeles end of his 1949 state visit to the US, shortly before journeying to Idaho to ski at Averill Harriman’s Sun Valley resort (Boyce, pp. 220-21).

Despite his final departure in 1945, Jordan was remembered and honored in Iran. In 1948 the College’s alumni organization unveiled a bust of him in the vestibule of the auditorium which had been named by the Ministry of Education Jordan Hall in his honor (Boyce, pp. 221-27). And, most enduring in memory, the imperial government named a new boulevard in northern Tehran after him. Since the revolution the republic calls it Africa Avenue, but in popular usage it remains Jordan.

After his death, on 21 June 1952, there was a vast outpouring of affection for Jordan at a memorial service held on the Alborz campus on 2 July 1952. Over 1,000 people attended and many of his former students made memorial speeches, including Allāhyār Ṣāleḥ, a leading member of the National Front and Prime Minister MosÂaddeq’s ambassador to Washington. Other tributes were paid by the Dean of the Tehran University Medical School, Jahānšāh Ṣāleḥ, and by former Minister of education ʿAli AsÂḡar Ḥekmat. Jordan was gone but definitely not forgotten (Wysham, 12-13; Armajani, pp. 23-24). This admiration of Jordan continues in the twenty-first century, as manifested in the recent tribute paid him by Alborz alumnus, a microtechnology pioneer Fareeborz Maseeh, who in 2005 founded at the University of California, Irvine, the Dr. Samuel M. Jordan Center for Persian Studies and Culture.



1. Archives. Alliance Israëlite Universelle (AIU), Paris, France. Archbishop of Canterbury’s Mission to the Church of the East (ACM), Lambeth Palace Library, London, UK. Board of Foreign Missions (BFM), Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Penn. Church Missionary Society Archives (CMS), Birmingham University Library, Birmingham, West Midlands, UK. Congrégation de la mission, Archives Lazaristes, Paris, France (CM). Diplomatic Archives of the United States (USNA), Washington, D.C. Foreign Office Archives (FO), The National Archives, Kew, Surry, UK. Lafayette College Archives, Skillman Library, Easton, Penn. Princeton University Archives, Mudd Library, Princeton, N.J.

2. Published works. Yahya Armajani, “Sam Jordan and the Evangelical Ethic in Iran,” Religious Ferment in Asia, Robert J. Miller, ed., Lawrence, KS, 1974, pp. 22-36.

Laleh Bakhtiar and Rose Bakhtiari, Helen of Tus; Her Odyssey from Idaho to Iran, Chicago, 2002.

F. L. Bird, “Modern Persia and Its Capital and an Account of an Ascent of Mount Demavend, the Persian Olympus,” The National Geographic Magazine, April 1921, pp. 353-416.

Betty Blair, “Lotfi Zadeh, Creator of Fuzzy Logic,” Azerbaijan International, 1999, pp. 28-30.

Arthur C. Boyce, “Alborz College of Teheran and Dr. Samuel Martin Jordan, Founder and President,” Duarte, Calif., 1954, reprinted in Ali Paha Saleh, ed., Cultural Ties between Iran and The United States, Tehran, 1976, pp. 155-225.

Sattareh Farman Farmaian, Daughter of Persia; A Woman’s Journey from Her Father’s Harem through the Islamic Revolution, New York, 1992.

Frederick J. Heuser, Jr., A Guide to Foreign Missionary Manuscripts in the Presbyterian Historical Society, New York, 1988, pp. 70-75.

Mary Park Jordan, “Persian Women Move Forward,” The Moslem World, 1935, pp. 300-1.

Samuel M. Jordan, “Constructive Revolutions in Iran,” The Moslem World, 1935, pp. 347-53.

Nikki R. Keddie, Modern Iran; Roots and Results of Revolution, New Haven, Conn., 2003. Mir Asad-Allāh Musawi Mākui, Dabirestān-e Alborz, Tehran, 2000.

Ali Pasha Saleh, “The Origin of Diplomatic Relations between Iran and the United States,” in Saleh, ed., Cultural Ties between Iran and The United States, Tehran, 1976, pp. 235-57.

William N. Wysham, “ ‘Mr. Chips’ of Tehran,” Presbyterian Life, 1 November 1952, pp. 12-14, 36.

Herrick Black Young, “Contrasts in Iran,” The Moslem World, 1936, pp. 380-84.

Michael Zirinsky, “Harbingers of Change: Presbyterian Women in Iran, 1883-1949,” American Presbyterians 70/3, Fall 1992, pp. 171-86.

Idem, “A Panacea for the Ills of the Country: American Presbyterian Education in Inter-War Iran,” Iranian Studies, 26/1-2, Winter/Spring 1993a, pp. 119-37.

Idem, “Render Therefore unto Caesar That Which is Caesar’s: American Presbyterian Educators and Reza Shah,” Iranian Studies, 26/3-4, Summer/Fall 1993b, pp. 337-56.

Idem, “A Presbyterian Vocation to Reform Gender Relations in Iran: The Career of Annie Stocking Boyce,” Women, Religion and Culture in Iran, Sarah Ansari and Vanessa Martin, eds., London, 2002a, pp. 51-69.

Idem, “Onward Christian Soldiers: Presbyterian Missionaries and the Ambiguous Origins of American Relations with Iran,” Altruism and Imperialism: Western Cultural and Religious Missions in the Middle East, Eleanor H. Tejerian and Reeva Spector Simon, eds., New York, 2002b, pp. 236-52.

(Michael Zirinsky)

Originally Published: June 15, 2009

Last Updated: April 17, 2012

This article is available in print.
Vol. XV, Fasc. 1, pp. 14-21