Elizabeth Fry

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Elizabeth Fry




Born: Elizabeth Gurney on 21st May, 1780 in Norwich (UK)


When her mother died, Elizabeth was only twelve years old but as one of the eldest girls, was expected to help bring up her younger brothers and sisters.

After meeting William Savery (the Quaker Minister), Elizabeth decided to devote her energies to helping those in need. Over the next few years she collected old clothes for the poor, visited the sick and and set up a Sunday School in her house where she taught local children to read.

In July 1799, Elizabeth was introduced to Joseph Fry, the son of a successful merchant from Essex. Fry was also a Quaker and the two married on 19th August 1800.

In 1813 a friend of the Fry family, Stephen Grellet, visited Newgate Prison. When Grellet told Elizabeth Fry about the way women were treated in Newgate, she decided that she must visit the prison. Fry discovered 300 women and their children, huddled together in two wards and two cells.

Elizabeth combined prison visiting with her role as wife and mother. Three more children were born over the next few years and she also had to endure the pain of the death of her five year old daughter, Betsy. In 1817 Elizabeth Fry and eleven other Quakers, formed the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate.

Elizabeth Fry was invited to give evidence to a House of Commons Committee on London Prisons. She told them how women slept thirty to a room in Newgate Prison, "each with a space of about six feet by two to herself".

As a result of the legislation introduced by Peel, there were regular visits from prison chaplains, gaolers were paid (before they were dependent on fees from the prisoners) and women warders were put in charge of women prisoners.

By the 1820s Elizabeth Fry had become a well-known personality in Britain.

Fry also became concerned about the quality of nursing staff. In 1840 she started a training school for nurses in Guy's Hospital. Fry nurses wore their own uniform and were expected to tend to their patients spiritual, as well as their physical needs.
After a short illness, Elizabeth Fry died on 12th October, 1845. Although Quakers do not have a funeral service, over a thousand people stood in silence as she was buried at the Society of Friend's graveyard at Barking.

Elizabeth Fry died on 12th October, 1845

Last Modified: Thursday May 20, 2010

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