Rachel Sassoon Beer
|Died||29 April 1927
Royal Tunbridge Wells, England
|Religion||born Jewish; converted to Christianity|
|Spouse(s)||Frederick Arthur Beer (1887-1903)|
|Relatives||Siegfried Sassoon (nephew)|
Rachel Sassoon was born in Bombay to Sassoon David Sassoon, of the Iraqi Sassoon family, one of the wealthiest families of the 19th century; indeed, he was known as the "Rothschild of the East." As a young woman, she volunteered as a nurse in a hospital.
In 1887, she married the wealthy financier Frederick Arthur Beer, son of Julius Beer (1836-1880), and converted to Christianity. Frederick, an Anglican Christian, was also from a family of converts. In the wake of her conversion, the family disowned her. The Beers had their roots as a banking family in the Frankfurt ghetto. In the UK they were financiers whose investments included ownership of newspapers.
Soon after her marriage to Frederick, Rachel began contributing articles to The Observer, which the Beer family then owned. In 1891, she took over as editor, becoming the first female editor of a national newspaper in the process. Two years later, she purchased the Sunday Times and became the editor of that newspaper as well. Though "not . . . a brilliant editor", she was known for her "occasional flair and business-like decisions".
It was during her time as editor that The Observer achieved one of its greatest exclusives: the admission by Count Esterhazy that he had forged, under instructions from his superiors, the letters that had falsely convicted the innocent Jewish officer Captain Dreyfus leading to his incarceration on Devil's Island. The story provoked an international outcry and led to the release and pardon of Dreyfus and court martial of Esterhazy.
Frederick's death in 1903 triggered a breakdown in Rachel, with her erratic behavior culminating in a collapse. The following year she was committed and her trustees sold both newspapers. Although Rachel subsequently recovered, she required nursing care for the remainder of her life. Rachel spent her final years at Chancellor House in Tunbridge Wells, where she died in 1927.
Though Rachel's husband Frederick was buried in his father's enormous mausoleum in Highgate Cemetery in London, Rachel's family intervened to prevent her burial in that bastion of Anglican religion. Instead she was interred in the Sassoon family mausoleum in Brighton. Among her relatives was the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was her nephew. Her brother, Alfred, had been cut off by his family for marrying outside the Jewish faith; though Rachel had also married a gentile, in her case the action was forgivable because of her sex. In her will she left a generous legacy to Siegfried, enabling him to purchase Heytesbury House in Wiltshire, where he spent the rest of his life. In honour of her bequest, Siegfried hung an oil portrait of his aunt above the fireplace.
- Hertog, Susan. "The First Lady of Fleet Street". Jewish Ideas Daily. Retrieved 21 May 2012.
- The life and death of Rachel Beer, a woman who broke with convention
- Financial Times, 7 & 8 May 2011, p.17.
- The Observer, 8 May 1983, p. 39
- Stanley Jackson, The Sassoons: Portrait of a dynasty, p. 95.
- Nina Macintyre "The First Lady of Fleet Street", Prospect (blog), 19 June 2013
- Jackson, Stanley (1989). The Sassoons: Portrait of a Dynasty. William Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-37056-8.
- Curney, Vanessa (2004). ""Beer [née Sassoon], Rachel". In Matthew, Colin, and Brian Harrison (eds.). Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 4. Oxford University Press. pp. 816–817.
- Negev, Eilat and Yehuda Koren (2011) The First Lady of Fleet Street: A Biography of Rachel Beer. (London: JR Books). ISBN 978-1-906779-19-1
Henry Duff Traill
|Editor of The Observer
1891 - 1904
Arthur William à Beckett
|Editor of The Sunday Times
1893 - 1901