Twelve Wonderful Women: Elizabeth Fry

I recently purchased a vintage book called Twelve Wonderful Women, and I wasn't alone in being disappointed in knowing so few of the women featured. So I am going to do a small summary on each lady over the next couple of weeks.

They will be in a random order (for no particular reason).

Elizabeth Fry

Image from BBC Elizabeth Gurney was born in Norwich in 1780 to a family of Quakers. Her father was a banker, and her mother highly cultured.

In 1800 she married Joseph Fry and they lived in London, where they started a family.

Life was busy for Elizabeth, she had children and entertained a lot of visitors. But she wasn't satisfied.

In 1813, Elizabeth visited Newgate where she saw the state of prisons at that time. Young, old, criminals, lunatics, debtors and children were all kept together with little bedding, no candles nor heat. The whole system ran on bribery and corruption. Elizabeth came across 300 women and their children all crowded together in the custody of one man and his son. Elizabeth entered the cells and spoke to the women, and knew that she wanted to help them.

She began to create a scheme to educate the children, and sent gifts to the prisoners, despite not being able to visit for some time due to family difficulties at home.

In 1817 Elizabeth Fry began to teach the children herself. The City Magistrates discouraged the scheme but Elizabeth continued.

She also suffered a great deal whilst trying to suppress capital punishment for forgery. She had a great sense of justice and fairness.

The story in the book is cluttered with bible references, as clearly this book was promoted as a Christian Endeavour Group.

I decided to do some quick googling to add to her story:

  • Elizabeth had 11 children!
  • Elizabeth spoke to Parliament about prison reform and even wrote a book on the subject
  • She also helped improve the conditions of prision ships heading to Australia
  • She set up a training school for nurses
  • She also campaigned for the homeless and patients of mental asylums

Even more interesting - Elizabeth Fry is on the bank of our Five Pound note! I am a littla ashamed to say I never stopped to think about who that lady was....