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An American family who served Iran

By Marjan Abdi


My special thanks to Prof. Esmaiel Yourdshahian for reviving the history of a dedicated American family in Iran through his latest novel, “Where I was born”. - Marjan Abdi, PhD


Life of Dr. Joseph Plumb Cochran M.D. 1855-1905

“Founder of Urmia’s First Medical College



“He came not to be ministered unto, but to be minister”


The above sentence is carved on Joseph. P. Cochran’s gravestone, adopted from the holy Bible. The gravestone is huge, wide and heavy and broken in the mid section. On one side of the stone, there is a text in Assyrian language; an ancient language of Mesopotamia; and on the other, a text in English.


Dr. Cochran’s grave is located next to Catherine’s, his young wife who died in 1895, when she was only 42, at the peak of her youth.


His father, Joseph. J. Cochran, his mother, Deborah Plumb Cochran and others like Justin Perkins, Dr. Wright, Mr. Walter and the former British council lie silently in the neighborhood.


A bit farther, outside the cemetery boundary walls, and on a mild slope, in the middle of a pasture, the grave of the one who was his best friend since childhood lies. His gravestone is a grain millstone; carved by himself, supposed to be placed in the new mill of the village.


American presbyterian missionary’s cemetery is located at the top of the “Seer mountain” in Urmia, Iran and in the old Christian’s cemetery of “Seer village” which today is called, “Seer-e-Heidarloo”. The cemetery is in the west side of the village and on a mild slope. Down there, near a narrow lane, in the Southwest of the village, there is Cochran’s house, facing towards west. It was inherited from his father. The house used to have a brick facade but now the ceiling is collapsed. There is still a wooden door and a metallic knocker; and grid-like wooden windows, which are long and slim where Dr. Cochran used to look at the mountains through, to the medical school of Urmia, Westminister hospital, the Urmia city and the narrow path which was stretched from the village to far; to eternity. 




Dr. Joseph P. Cochran in hospital 1897


The medical college of Urmia continued its activity until 1905, the time when Dr. Cochran passed   away.

Dr. Joseph. P. Cochran, who consecrated his entire life to serve his fellow people, became depressed and all alone in his last days of life had faced with lot of disgracefulness from some people. In 1895, his beautiful wife, Catherine, died of typhoid which took the life of a lot of others, and left him and her children alone (She had four sons and one daughter). After her death, he took the entire responsibility of the hospital, family and the college and during that time he traveled three times to the U.S to bring more supplies for the college and the hospital.


In reply to his friends who had asked if he wanted to come back to the U.S, since his wife had passed away and children needed further education, he answered:
“This is the matter of their own; I was born here and will die here too!”

In the spring of 1905, a Kurdish rebel man, intrigued by some people, unsuccessful to assassinate Dr. Cochran, Killed Albery, his coworker with stabbing a knife repeatedly. This circumstance had an immense effect on Dr. Cochran and left him desperately depressed.

In June 1905, to overcome a sudden famine and scarcity of flour, Dr. Cochran decided to build a mill near the river in “Hesar” village. Two men, Ivan and Heidar who had carved the millstones in a nearby mountain called “Ghoshlar Ghalasi” (birds’ fortress) started carrying them with a cart. The movement of the cart was being done quite slowly and with lots of difficulty; they not only had to pass the bumpy mountainous area but also, cross the river. The moving day, the sky was gray and a layer of thick dark clouds covered the sky. It was quite unusual at that time of the year. In the afternoon the rain started. While crossing the river, the river turned to a flood and the cart fell over Ivan’s body, who was Dr. Cochran’s friend since childhood. Parts of his trunk and limbs were injured. His injured body was brought to the hospital, but all efforts were useless. He died in unconsciousness. Dr. Cochran decided to put the millstones on his grave then. One can still see it on the “Seer” mountain



Ivan’s Grave

After Ivan’s death, tired of years of continued work and bitter upcoming, while fighting against typhus, he died; a martyr of bravery and self - sacrifice for the sake of his people, (Although some believe that he died of typhoid not typhus).


Whatever caused his death, he had a short life in which he extended a lot of humanitarian and also medical services and he not only trained 27 doctors in 27 years who continued their practice long after his death, but also cured almost fifteen patients and fought bravely against scourges diseases like plague, etc; and published medical guidance booklets in Kurdish, Turkish and Persian.


He had a short but fruitful life and died in August 18, 1905 at the age of 50 in the second floor of his wooden house in the medical school.

His death left many people of Urmia mournful. More than 10,000 took part in his funeral. He was buried on the other side of the “Seer” mountain’s steep, where his house was in sight. Just opposite the boarding school of the “Seer” village, his wife Catherine and parents, had already been buried. They imprinted on his gravestone: 


Born June. 14, 1855

Died Aug. 18,1905

He came not to be ministered unto but to be minister. 

After his death, for a short time the school stopped its activity and after that, Dr. Miller, Mr. Shast and Dr. Pakard took charge of the hospital one after the other. Unfortunately, Dr. Pakard and Dr. Shed were not appropriate successors after Dr. Cochran, since they mixed their medical practice with politics.

After World War 1, Iran’s Kingdom bought the school, hospital and all its supplies and American missioners moved to Tabriz. In 1920,  “Shir - Khorshid - Sorkh” of Iran (A medical organization of that time) built two hospitals in the present nursing college of Urmia and lofty purpose of a righteous man called “Shalchi” a clinic was built in Urmia.

After several years, Dr. Joseph Cochran the Junior; Cochran family’s   third son, came back to Urmia as a physician to continue his father’s route and serve his people. He stayed in Urmia for five years; in the wooden building, with his wife and children; but after some time, he was sent to Tabriz and employed by Iran’s government to work in “Mashhad”. Meanwhile, his daughter who had studied nursing, came to Tabriz.

This family belonged themselves and felt attached to Iran and served their lives for the sake of this land. Dr. Joseph Cochran the junior, who worked in “Mashhad” till 1957, passed away in 1985. His latest grand daughter worked and taught in “Shiraz” University until 1979.





Urmia medical school, which was closed until 1977, for seventy-two years, re-opened in the autumn of 1977 and commenced its activity. The medical activities of Dr. Cochran is highly praised and kept in the archive of the present day medical collage.       




1- Speer, Robert E.; The foreign doctor. New York. Fleming H. Rowell company (1911).

2- Cochran, Joseph P. (Se.); Memoirs of Joseph P. Cochran. Nov. (1983).

3- Moulton, Mary Cochran; A mission child in Iran. America: Moulton Desktop Publishing, 1997.


All the materials courtesy of




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