Elizabeth Fry


Elizabeth Fry, née Gurney, was an English
prison reformer, social reformer and, as a Quaker, a Christian philanthropist. She has sometimes been referred to as the
“angel of prisons”. Fry was a major driving force behind new legislation
to make the treatment of prisoners more humane, and she was supported in her efforts by the
reigning monarch. Since 2001, she has been depicted on the Bank
of England £5 note. Birth and family background
Elizabeth Gurney was born in Gurney Court, off Magdalen Street, Norwich, Norfolk, England
to the Quaker family of the Gurneys. Her family home as a child was Earlham Hall,
which is now part of the University of East Anglia. Her father, John Gurney, was a partner in
Gurney’s bank. Her mother, Catherine, was a part of the Barclay
family, who were among the founders of Barclays Bank. Her mother died when Elizabeth was only twelve
years old. As one of the oldest girls in the family,
Elizabeth was partly responsible for the care and training of the younger children, including
her brother Joseph John Gurney, a philanthropist. One of her sisters was Louisa Gurney Hoare,
a writer on education. Awakening of social concern
At the age of 18, young Elizabeth was deeply moved by the preaching of William Savery,
an American Quaker. Motivated by his words, she took an interest
in the poor, the sick, and the prisoners. She collected old clothes for the poor, visited
those who were sick in her neighbourhood, and started a Sunday school in the summer
house to teach children to read. She met Joseph Fry, a banker and also a Quaker,
when she was twenty years old. They married on 19 August 1800 at the Norwich
Goat Lane Friends Meeting House and moved to St Mildred’s Court in the City of London. Elizabeth Fry was recorded as a Minister of
the Religious Society of Friends in 1811. Joseph and Elizabeth Fry lived in Plashet
House in East Ham between 1809 and 1829, then moved to Upton Lane in Forest Gate. They had eleven children, five sons and six
daughters: Katharine Fry born 22 August 1801, unmarried,
died 9 May 1886, who wrote A History of the Parishes of East and West Ham
Rachel Elizabeth Fry born 25 March 1803 died 4 Dec 1888, married Francis Cresswell
John Gurney Fry of Warley Lodge, born 1804 died 1872, married Rachel Reynolds, whose
mother was a Barclay William Storrs Fry born 1 June 1806, died
1844, married Juliana Pelly Richenda Fry born 18 February 1808, died 1884,
married Foster Reynolds Joseph Fry born 20 September 1809, died 1896,
married Alice Partridge Elizabeth Fry born February 1811, died 1816,
aged 5 Hannah Fry born on 12 September 1812 died
on 10 March 1895, married William Champion Streatfeild
Louisa Fry born 1814, died 1896, married Raymond Pelly
Samuel Fry born 1816, died 1902, married Sophia Pinkerton aunt to poet & translator Percy
Edward Pinkerton Daniel Fry, known as “Henry” or “Harry”, born
October 1822 died 1892, married Lucy Sheppard Prison work Prompted by a family friend, Stephen Grellet,
Fry visited Newgate prison. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women’s section was overcrowded with women
and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. They did their own cooking and washing in
the small cells in which they slept on straw. Elizabeth Fry wrote in the book Prisons in
Scotland and the North of England that she actually stayed the nights in some of the
prisons and invited nobility to come and stay and see for themselves the conditions prisoners
lived in. Her kindness helped her gain the friendship
of the prisoners and they began to try to improve their conditions for themselves. She returned the following day with food and
clothes for some of the prisoners. She was unable to further her work for nearly
four years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties
in the Fry bank. Fry returned in 1816 and was eventually able
to found a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their parents. She began a system of supervision and required
the women to sew and to read the Bible. In 1817 she helped found the Association for
the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. This led to the eventual creation of the British
Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, widely described by biographers
and historians as constituting the first “nationwide” women’s organisation in Britain. Thomas Fowell Buxton, Fry’s brother-in-law,
was elected to Parliament for Weymouth and began to promote her work among his fellow
MPs. In 1818 Fry gave evidence to a House of Commons
committee on the conditions prevalent in British prisons, becoming the first woman to present
evidence in Parliament. Humanitarian work
Elizabeth Fry also helped the homeless, establishing a “nightly shelter” in London after seeing
the body of a young boy in the winter of 1819/1820. In 1824, during a visit to Brighton, she instituted
the Brighton District Visiting Society. The society arranged for volunteers to visit
the homes of the poor and provide help and comfort to them. The plan was successful and was duplicated
in other districts and towns across Britain. After her husband went bankrupt in 1828, Fry’s
brother became her business manager and benefactor. Thanks to him, her work went on and expanded. In 1840 Fry opened a training school for nurses. Her programme inspired Florence Nightingale,
who took a team of Fry’s nurses to assist wounded soldiers in the Crimean War. In 1842, Frederick William IV of Prussia went
to see Fry in Newgate Prison during an official visit to Great Britain. The King of Prussia, who had met the social
reformer during her previous tours of the continent promoting welfare change and humanitarianism,
was so impressed by her work that he told his reluctant courtiers that he would personally
visit the gaol when he was in London. Reputation
Fry became well known in society. Some people praised her for having such an
influential role as a woman. Others alleged that she was neglecting her
duties as a wife and mother in order to conduct her humanitarian work. One admirer was Queen Victoria, who granted
her an audience a few times and contributed money to her cause. Another admirer was Robert Peel who passed
several acts to further her cause including the Gaols Act 1823. The act was largely ineffective, because there
were no inspectors to make sure that it was being followed. Following her death in 1845, a meeting chaired
by the Lord Mayor of London, resolved that it would be fitting “to found an asylum to
perpetuate the memory of Mrs Fry and further the benevolent objects to which her life had
been devoted.” * A fine 18th-century town house was purchased
at 195 Mare Street, in the London Borough of Hackney and the first Elizabeth Fry refuge
opened its doors in 1849. Funding came via subscriptions from various
city companies and private individuals, supplemented by income from the inmates’ laundry and needlework. Such training was an important part of the
refuge’s work. In 1924, the refuge merged with the Manor
House Refuge for the Destitute, in Dalston in Hackney, becoming a hostel for girls on
probation for minor offences. The hostel soon moved to larger premises in
Highbury, Islington and then, in 1958, to Reading, where it remains today. The original building in Hackney became the
CIU New Lansdowne Club but became vacant in 2000 and has fallen into disrepair. Hackney Council, in 2009, was leading efforts
to restore the building and bring it back into use. The building did undergo substantial refurbishment
work in 2012 but as of July 2013, the entire building is for sale. The building and Elizabeth Fry are commemorated
by a plaque at the entrance gateway. Death
Elizabeth Fry died from a stroke in Ramsgate, England, on 12 October 1845. Her remains were buried in the Friends’ burial
ground at Barking. Seamen of the Ramsgate Coast Guard flew their
flag at half mast in respect of Mrs Fry; a practice that until this occasion had been
officially reserved for the death of a ruling monarch. More than a thousand people stood in silence
during the burial. Memorials There are a number of memorials which commemorate
places where Fry lived. There are plaques located at her birthplace
of Gurney Court in Norwich; her childhood home of Earlham Hall; St. Mildred’s Court,
City of London, where she lived when she was first married; and Arklow House, her final
home and place of death in Ramsgate. Her name heads the list on the southern face
of the Reformers Monument in Kensal Green Cemetery, London. Due to her work as a prison reformer, there
are several memorials to Elizabeth Fry in prisons and courthouses, including a terracotta
bust in the gatehouse of HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs and a stone statue in the Old Bailey. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry
Societies honours her memory by advocating for women who are in the criminal justice
system. They also celebrate and promote a National
Elizabeth Fry Week in Canada each May. Elizabeth Fry is also commemorated in a number
of educational and care-based settings. The University of East Anglia’s School of
Social Work and Psychology is housed in a building named after her. There is an Elizabeth Fry Ward in Scarborough
Hospital in North Yorkshire, United Kingdom. A road is named for Fry at Guilford College,
a school in Greensboro, North Carolina, which was founded by Quakers. There is a bust of Elizabeth Fry located in
East Ham Library, Newham Borough of London. Quakers also acknowledge Elizabeth Fry as
a prominent member. Her grave at the former Society of Friends
Burial Ground, located off Whiting Avenue in Barking, Essex, was restored and received
a new commemorative marble plinth in October 2003. In February 2007, a plaque was erected in
her honour at the Friends Meeting House in Upper Goat Lane, Norwich. Fry is also depicted in the Quaker Tapestry,
on panels E5 and E6. She is also honoured by other Christian denominations. In the Lady Chapel of Manchester’s Anglican
Cathedral, one of the portrait windows of Noble Women on the west wall of the Chapel
features Elizabeth Fry. Since 2001 Fry has been depicted on the reverse
of £5 notes issued by the Bank of England. She is shown reading to prisoners at Newgate
Prison. The design also incorporates a key, representing
the key to the prison which was awarded to Fry in recognition of her work. However, as of 2016, Fry’s image on these
notes will be replaced by that of Winston Churchill. See also
John Howard Howard League for Penal Reform
Congénies Notes References
Anderson, George M. “Elizabeth Fry: timeless reformer.” America 173: 22–3. Clay, Walter Lowe. The Prison Chaplain. Montclair. New Jersey.: Patterson Smith, 1969. Fairhurst, James. “The Angel of Prisons.” Ireland’s Own 4539:5. Fry, Katherine. Memoir of the Life of Elizabeth Fry. Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith, 1974. Second edition, 1848 available on GoogleBooks. Hatton, Jean. Betsy, the dramatic biography of a prison
reformer. Oxford UK & Grand Rapids, Michigan, Monarch
Books, 2005., ISBN 0-8254-6092-1). Johnson, Spencer. The Value of Kindness: The Story of Elizabeth
Fry. 2nd ed. 1976. Lewis, Georgina. Elizabeth Fry. London, England: Headley Brothers, 1909. Francisca de Haan, ‘Fry , Elizabeth’ in
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography [1], accessed 21 May 2009. Pitman, E.R. Elizabeth Fry. Boston, Mass.: Roberts Brothers, 1886. Rose, June. Elizabeth Fry, a biography. London & Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1980. reprinted 1994 by Quaker Home Service ISBN
0-85245-260-8. Rose, June. Prison Pioneer: The Story of Elizabeth Fry. Quaker Tapestry Booklets, 1994. Whitney, Janet. Elizabeth Fry: Quaker Heroine. London UK: George Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1937,
New York, N.Y.: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1972. www.hackney.gov.uk/archives
External links Elizabeth Fry on the history of social work
timeline A sermon by Elizabeth Fry
BBC – The five pound question: Who is Elizabeth Fry? Elizabeth Fry at Howard League for Penal Reform
Elizabeth Fry Biography Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies Canada
Archival material relating to Elizabeth Fry listed at the UK National Archives
http:congenies.canalblog. com Elizabeth Fry and the meeting house quakers
of Congénies in France