Career of a Lady Preacher
Ray Frank, 1861 - 1948
The 1890s were a whirlwind for Frank, who became "the most talked of Jewess of to-day." Dubbed "the Maiden in the Temple" by the Spokane paper and "the Jewess in the Pulpit" by the Cincinnati Israelite, Frank was soon launched into a new career. As articles about her groundbreaking preaching appeared in both Jewish and non-Jewish publications across the country, more and more communities wished to hear for themselves the newest sensation in American Jewry.
Up and down the Pacific coast, Frank traveled from her home in the bay area of California to Los Angeles, San Diego, and Stockton, Nevada, Oregon, and British Columbia, addressing enthusiastic audiences along the way. In addition to giving lectures to B'nai B'rith lodges, literary societies, and synagogue women's groups, she spoke in both Reform and Orthodox synagogues, giving sermons, officiating at services, or, as at San Francisco's Temple Emanuel in 1895, reading Scripture. Unfortunately, because contemporary reports do not indicate exactly what her "officiating" entailed, the extent to which Frank ever took on the strictly religious functions of a rabbi remains unclear.
Many of Frank's discourses, such as "The Prayers that are Heard" and "The Sounding of the Shofar," dealt with deeply religious subjects. But even her talks on cultural, historical, and artistic toimages were suffused with a profound spirituality, as Frank explored the connections between God and art, music, or nature. Titles like "Heart Throbs of Israel," "Jewish Women in Fact and History," "Music and its Revelations," "Nature—the Supreme Teacher" reflect only a few of the many issues that interested Frank.
Learn more about other women public speakers in nineteenth-century America.
- Quote is from "A Famous Jewess who has been called 'A Female Messiah,'" Cincinnati Times-Star, January 11, 1893, 6.
- For information about Frank's career and speaking engagements, see Simon Litman, Ray Frank Litman: A Memoir (New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1957), and Reva Clar and William M. Kramer, "The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West" The Adventurous Life of Ray Frank in Nevada, California and the Northwest," Western States Jewish History, 28, no. 2 (1986): 99-111, 223-236, 336-351.