Frank, Ray

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FRANK, RAY (1861–1948), U.S. journalist and religious leader, the first Jewish woman to preach from a North American pulpit. Born in San Francisco (according to some sources in 1864 or 1865) to Leah and Bernard Frank, and raised in a "deeply religious home," she graduated from Sacramento High School in 1879, taught in Nevada for six years, and subsequently rejoined her family in Oakland, California. To support herself, Frank gave private lessons, wrote for several periodicals, and taught at First Hebrew Congregation, becoming superintendent of its religious school.

During the 1890s, Frank traveled throughout the Pacific Northwest as a correspondent for several Oakland and San Francisco newspapers. Arriving in Spokane, Washington (then Spokane Falls), in September 1890, just before the Jewish New Year, she found a small Jewish community torn apart by religious dissension. When she discovered that there was neither a synagogue nor planned religious services, she offered to deliver the sermon if a minyan could be assembled. As reported in a special edition of the Spokane Falls Gazette, Frank preached at the Opera House that evening, with one thousand Jews and Christians in attendance. She also spoke the next morning and on Yom Kippur. Moved by her plea that her coreligionists unite to form a congregation, a "Christian gentleman" offered to donate land on which to build a synagogue. Frank's call for communal cooperation was so successful that she healed congregational squabbles and helped create Orthodox and Reform congregations throughout the western and northwestern United States.

Hailed as a "latter-day Deborah" and erroneously labeled a "Lady Rabbi," she came to the attention of Isaac Mayer *Wise, who encouraged her to study at *Hebrew Union College. Enrolling in January 1893, she left after one semester, later maintaining that her intention was to study philosophy, not to become a rabbi. Wise, however, had earlier written that Frank's avowed purpose was to enter the "Jewish ministry," and he applauded her zeal and moral courage in breaking down "the last remains of the barriers erected in the synagogue against women." In September 1893 Frank delivered the opening prayer and a formal address on "Woman in the Synagogue" at the first Jewish Women's Congress, held in conjunction with the Parliament of World Religions at the Chicago World's Fair. She later spoke at synagogues and churches throughout North America and officiated in 1895 at High Holy Day services in an Orthodox synagogue in Victoria, British Columbia. She declined a Chicago Reform congregation's offer to become its full-time spiritual leader.

Frank's public career ended after her 1901 marriage to economics professor, Simon Litman. She remained active in local Jewish organizations and institutions in Urbana, Illinois, led a study group, and occasionally lectured in the community and throughout the Midwest. Her papers are housed at the American Jewish Historical Society.


R. Clar and W.M. Kramer, "The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West," in: Western States Jewish History, 18 (1986), 91–111, 223–36, 336–51; P. Nadell, Women Who Would Be Rabbis (1998); S. Litman, Ray Frank Litman: A Memoir (1957).

[Ellen M. Umansky (2nd ed.)]