Rachel Sassoon Beer 1858 – 1927
Rachel was the first female editor of a Fleet Street newspaper.
She was estranged from her family after marrying her husband Frederick Beer (Editor of The Observer)
She edited the Sunday Times and while her husband was unwell with Tuberculosis she also edited his paper too whilst nursing him.
After Frederick's death (1903) while grieving and suffering from exhaustion, she began to struggle running both papers her erratic behavior culminating in a collapse. Soon her colleagues and friends begin to worry about her.
Despite being estranged from her family through her choice to marry Frederick her friend & sister in law Teresa Sassoon contacted her brother (Joseph Sassoon) and he decided to hire a lunacy expert, one Dr Savage,
Dr Savage was the same doctor who went on to treat Virginia Woolf a year later
he ‘diagnosed’ Rachel after one interview, and at the age of 45 she was declared insane (by today’s standards she would not have received this diagnosis).
Although Rachel subsequently recovered, she ‘required’ nursing care for the remainder of her life, she was not given the opportunity to appeal and just accepted the decision, such was her grief.
While she lived out her later years some of her family, namely her Nephew poet Siegfried Sassoon waited impatiently for his portion of her assets, as she had no children and her family were in trust of her estate we was well aware that he would benefit from her death.
She spent her final years at Chancellor House in Tunbridge Wells, where she died in 1927.
While she lived in Tunbridge wells she was involved in community projects and despite being stripped of her assets and the right to make a will by her brothers managed to make generous donations to support the Red Cross based in the parish of St Phillips.
The part that saddens me is that after her passing instead of following her wishes to be buried alongside the love of her life Frederick in The Julius Beer Mausoleum in Highgate Cemetery (now a grade two listed building) which might have kept her name alive, instead her family had her buried on unconsecrated ground in our local cemetery, her gravestone stating only ‘Daughter of David Sassoon’.
Despite editing the Sunday Times for ten years there was no mention made of her passing.
I am looking forward to exploring these and other local figures more in future works.