Who was Elizabeth Fry?

  • Elizabeth Gurney was born in Norwich England in 1780. She grew up in a wealthy Quaker family. Quakerism is known for its pacifist ideals, simplicity, and is the earliest Western Christian denomination to have advocated for the equality of women. As a teenager, she taught neighbourhing children who were poor.
  • In 1800, she married Joseph Fry and moved to London. She immediately immersed herself into educating children.
  • In 1813, Elizabeth visited Newgate Prison upon the recommendation of a friend. When she arrived, she was shocked at the deplorable conditions that the women were living in. Some of these conditions included: women sleeping on the floor with rats without any clothes or bedding and babies being born right in the prisons. After witnessing these conditions, Elizabeth returned to Newgate Prison with clothes, food, and fresh hay for bedding.
  • In 1817, Elizabeth, along with 11 other Quaker women, formed the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners in Newgate. The goal of the group was to improve living conditions for women in prison and to advocate for the abolishment of capital punishment. This association was so powerful that Elizabeth was the first woman to ever appear in British Parliament other than women monarchy. Queen Victoria was also interested in her work and met with Elizabeth several times to discuss issues and donate money to her charities.
  • At the age of 65, Elizabeth Fry died in 1845. Despite the Quaker tradition of having no formal ceremony or funeral, thousands of people stood in silence as Elizabeth was buried at the Society of Friend’s graveyard in Barking.
  • Elizabeth Fry made lasting changes on the treatment of women in the prison system and today her efforts are evident in the penal system.