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April 29: Rachel Sassoon Beer

April 29, 2013

RACHEL BEER 1Rachel Sassoon Beer, the first woman editor of a national newspaper, died on this date in 1929. Sassoon was born in India into one of the 19th century’s wealthiest families, the Iraqi Sassoons. She was disowned by her Orthodox Jewish family, however, when she converted out of Judaism to Anglicanism in 1887 and married financier Frederick Arthur Beer — also an Anglican convert from Judaism. In 1891 she took over as editor of The Observer, the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper, which the Beer family owned, and two years later she purchased The Sunday Times, which she also edited. Under her command, the liberal-leaning Observer in 1898 revealed that the documents used for the 1894 spying conviction of French army officer Alfred Dreyfus were forgeries, a scoop that led to Dreyfus’ release. Beer was also a futurist who wrote in her weekly column about innovations such as the “horseless carriage,” which, she wrote, “will give us cleaner streets and fewer painful sights of suffering horses.” Her husband’s death in 1903 triggered her mental breakdown, from which she slowly recovered, although she required nursing care for the remainder of her life. Upon her death, The Sunday Times did not run an obituary, and The Observer barely mentioned her passing.

“Beer too was intrigued by the nascent Zionist movement; [her biographers] note that The Observer ‘was among the first to acknowledge the significance of the idea of establishing “a Jewish Autonomous State in Syria,“ ‘ following the publication of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat in 1896.” —Daniella Peled, Ha’aretz