Non­fic­tion

The First Lady of Fleet Street: The Life of Rachel Beer: Cru­sad­ing Heiress and News­pa­per Pioneer

Eilat Negev and Yehu­da Koren
  • Review
By – February 22, 2012
Heiress Rachel Beer (18581927) 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.

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