Tunbridge Wells Museum & Art Gallery - March 2017

Rachel Beer's Memoriam Booklet

Rachel Beer's Memoriam Booklet

March's Object of the Month has been chosen by Aoife Kurta, Graduate Documentation Assistant at the museum, and is the memoriam booklet from Rachel Beer’s funeral. This object has been chosen to mark Women’s History Month and to commemorate the life of Rachel Beer, who lived in Tunbridge Wells from 1902 until her death in 1927.  In 1891, Rachel Beer became the first female editor of a national newspaper. Editor of first The Observer and then, from 1893, The Sunday Times, Rachel Beer was a ground-breaking figure in British Journalism.

Rachel Beer was born in India in 1858 to the Sassoon’s, a wealthy Jewish Iraqi family who emigrated to Britain. On her Father’s death Beer inherited a large fortune but spent much of her life as a stay-at-home daughter. Charitable work as a nurse allowed her to leave her mothers household in 1884 without marrying. She volunteered at a Consumption Hospital for two years, an experience which gave her a passion for championing public health issues and raising the status of nurses.

After her conversion to Christianity and marriage to Frederick Beer in 1887, Rachel Beer was disowned by the Sassoon family. The Beer family owned The Observer, and four years after her marriage to Frederick Beer, Rachel Beer took over as editor, writing extensively about politics and foreign affairs, providing coverage of increasingly turbulent European events, and writing in favour of women’s suffrage.

In 1901, Rachel Beer was widowed and moved to Tunbridge Wells to grieve and to move closer to her sister-in-law. After many years without contact, Rachel Beer’s brother Joseph Sassoon engaged three physicians to examine his sister. After evidence these doctors presented to the Royal Court of Justice in 1903, Rachel Sassoon was declared of unsound mind.

Joseph Sassoon rented Chancellor House in Tunbridge Wells for his sister to live in, cared for by three nurses. Over time, Beer began to take part in life in Tunbridge Wells and was generous in her support of local charitable causes.

When Rachel Beer died, her nephews, including war poet and author Siegfried Sassoon, chose to bury her in unconsecrated ground at the Tunbridge Wells Borough Cemetery. Her tombstone makes no mention of her husband, Frederick Beer, and identified her as ‘Daughter of the late David Sassoon’.

Aoife says: “Rachel Beer’s memorial booklet interests me as a way to recognise her achievements as a ground-breaking female journalist and as a lifelong supporter of women’s causes. As an object, the memorial booklet from her funeral service also represents the interesting story of Rachel Beer’s personal and religious life.”

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