Heiress Rachel Beer (1858−1927) was the first female publisher of a major national newspaper, the Sunday Times of England. Born into the wealthy Sassoon family, whose travels from Bombay through Europe to England occupy the first section of this book, Rachel Sassoon converted to the Anglican faith when she married the wealthy Frederick Beer, effectively severing her ties with her family and the Jewish community. She ran both the Sunday Times and, for a period, her husband’s paper, The Observer, writing a regular editorial column. She raised money for charities, endorsed new technologies, and championed some progressive causes, including the rights of women and minorities. After her husband’s early death — they’d only been married fifteen years— Rachel was declared mentally incompetent and bundled off to an early dotage. While readers may wonder how this Victorian woman overcame so many social barriers, how she related to the Jewish community, and what insights her life might offer, these questions remain largely unanswered. If this biography has relatively little to say about Rachel Beer herself, there are compensations. One learns a lot about the Sassoon and Beer dynasties, the Dreyfus affair, the opening of journalism to women, and the (limited) social life of an ex-Jewish heiress in late nineteenth century England. Still, the tragedy of this talented woman’s restricted existence is an inescapably sad bottom line. Bibliography, index, notes, photo insert.
Bettina Berch, author of the recent biography, From Hester Street to Hollywood: The Life and Work of Anzia Yezierska, teaches part-time at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.