Ray Frank, 1861 - 1948
Born in San Francisco on April 10, 1861, Rachel ("Ray") Frank was the daughter of Polish immigrants, Bernard and Leah Frank, whom Ray later described as "Orthodox Jews of liberal mind." Her father, a peddler and Indian agent, claimed descent from the eighteenth-century Jewish sage, the Vilna Gaon.
Soon after her graduation from Sacramento High School in 1879, Frank moved to the silver-mining town of Ruby Hill, Nevada, where she taught public school. Although nearby Eureka, where Frank's sister Rosa lived, had over 100 Jewish inhabitants and the first synagogue in Nevada, Ruby Hill was home to few Jews, as were the western territories overall.
The contrast between the non-Jewish surrounding environment and the Jewish household in which she was raised provided rich food for Frank's fertile mind. She later wrote, "Although reared among non-Jews, my childhood's home being in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mts and later on in the state of Nevada, I at an early age became much interested in all that concerned the Jews. Living where prejudices of a theological kind were unknown, one of the prime factors of this early interest was the desire to understand the cause and meaning of prejudice against the Jew." In the 1890s, Frank would examine these ideas in her sermons, lectures, and newspaper articles.
Frank's time in Nevada set the stage for her subsequent career in other ways as well. Six years as a teacher gave her a self-assurance and confidence as a public speaker that would impress subsequent observers. She also published her first article, about education, in the Daily Elko Independent.
Learn more about Jews of the West.
- Quote from draft of letter from Ray Frank to Reverend S.T. Willis, December 15, 1896, Box 1, Letters from R.F. Litman and to Stetson and to S.T. Willis, Ray Frank Litman Collection, American Jewish Historical Society.
- The main source of information about Frank's life is the memoir by her husband, Simon Litman, Ray Frank Litman: A Memoir(New York: American Jewish Historical Society, 1957). See also Pamela S. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women's Ordination 1889-1985 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998).
- For information on Nevada Jewry, see Norton B. Stern, "The Jewish Community of a Nevada Mining Town," Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly, 15, no. 1 (1982): 48-78.