A marker has been added to the grave of Rachel Beer (nee Sassoon), the first female editor of a British national newspaper, to commemorate the achievement. Rachel Beer edited both The Sunday Times and The Observer in the 1890s, a time when women were barred from the much of public life including the parliamentary press gallery and most London clubs.
The marker was paid for by both newspapers and came about after efforts by Ann Treneman, a Times columnist and a founding member of Women in Journalism. Ann first became aware of Rachel’s story in 2013 when researching her book into the graves of exceptional people. The original grave, forgotten and in poor repair, in Tunbridge Wells municipal cemetery made no reference to her pioneering career, recording only her date of death in 1927 and the fact that she was the daughter of David Sassoon.
The new marker, in white marble to match the original and now newly cleaned headstone, says: “Rachel Beer, editor of The Observer and The Sunday Times in the 1890s. The first female editor of a national newspaper.”
Rachel, born in 1858 into the prominent Sassoon family, became the owner and editor of the Sunday Times in 1893 after it was bought for her by her husband, the wealthy industrialist Federick Beer. She had a global outlook and was a campaigning editor with wide-ranging interests. Her first weekly 4,000 word editorial in the Sunday Times plunged with gusto into world affairs, commenting on the Sino-Japanese war, the British colonies and Russia.
The Beer family had owned The Observer since 1870 but Rachel only became an active editor in the mid-1890s after her husband’s health declined. She continued to edit both papers until 1901 and is best known for her scoop interviews in The Observer during the Dreyfus affair.
The new marker was welcomed by the editors of both papers:
“Rachel Beer is a hugely important part of Fleet Street’s history and I’m pleased this new grave marker notes her pioneering contribution to journalism,” said Emma Tucker, editor of The Sunday Times.
“The remarkable achievements of Rachel Beer have been fittingly celebrated with the addition of a beautifully designed marker to her restored resting place in Tunbridge Wells. The Observer remains proud of this extraordinary woman’s accomplishments and is grateful that she now has a fitting memorial,” said Paul Webster, editor of The Observer.
Rachel’s career ended after the death of her husband in 1901, which affected her deeply. She moved to Tunbridge Wells where she was declared to be insane though, in modern times, she probably would have been seen as suffering from depression and grief. Her heirs were her nephews who included the war poet Siegfried Sassoon.