Why is Elizabeth Fry famous?
What she did
Elizabeth Fry helped people in prison. She visited prisons that were dark, dirty and dangerous. She believed even prisoners should be treated with kindness. She was a brave reformer.
When did she live?
Elizabeth Fry was born in 1780. Britain was changing. The Industrial Revolution was bringing new machines and factories. Elizabeth met Queen Victoria when the queen was a young woman. Elizabeth Fry died in 1845.
How she changed things
John Howard (1726-90) was England's first prison reformer, but Elizabeth was the first woman to campaign for better prisons. It was unusual for a woman to lead a campaign.
Elizabeth was born on 21st May 1780. Her father John Gurney was a banker in Norwich. He also owned a factory.
Her mother Catherine Bell came from a family of bankers. Catherine was a Quaker. Elizabeth was brought up as a Quaker too.
The family home
The Gurney family lived in a fine house, Earlham Hall. Built in 1642, it was already old when Elizabeth lived there as a child.
Elizabeth's mother believed rich people should help others, through charity work. She took her children to visit poor families, bringing food and clothes.
Looking after the family
When Elizabeth was 12, her mother died. Now she helped bring up her brothers and sisters.
Out in the world
Elizabeth's father paid for a teacher, and Elizabeth studied history, geography and French. Many poor children never went to school. Elizabeth started a Sunday School for poor children.
Elizabeth had a friend, Amelia Alderson. Amelia's father talked to the girls about politics and new ideas. Elizabeth was excited by new ideas. She wore a French hat to celebrate the French Revolution. She was not afraid to shock people. She loved bright clothes, especially purple boots!
Inspired by a preacher
When she was 18, an American preacher, William Savery, spoke at a meeting. He came to dinner with the Gurney family. Meeting him inspired Elizabeth to do something important.
In 1800, Elizabeth married Joseph Fry. He was a Quaker too. They set up home in London.
A busy mother
Over the next few years Elizabeth had 11 children. One daughter, Betsy, died when only 5. Children at this time caught diseases that doctors could not cure.
Elizabeth went on helping others, while running her home. In 1811, she started preaching herself.
The prison visitor
Visiting Newgate Gaol
In 1813, Elizabeth visited Newgate Gaol, the most horrible prison in London.
Old Newgate Gaol, 600 years old, burned down in 1780. The new prison was already overcrowded and dirty.
Outside Newgate, people were hanged. Crowds came to watch, and rich people paid for seats with the best view. Inside Newgate, Elizabeth met Harriet Skelton. This poor woman had been caught using forged (fake) money. Harriet was hanged.
Women and children in prison
Elizabeth wanted to help the 300 women and children in Newgate. Small children were shut up with murderers. Children were locked up just because their mothers were in prison.
Life for prisoners
Prisoners slept on the floor, on straw. There was only one tap for water. The toilet was a bucket. Many prisoners were ill. Some were so violent that the governor was scared to go into his own prison!
Working in prison
Elizabeth brought in clean clothes for prisoners. She started a school and read from the Bible. She got women prisoners to knit and sew, to earn money.
In 1817 Elizabeth and her friends set up a society to make prisons better. She visited other prisons, and helped other women set up groups to help prisoners.
What was transportation?
Some prisoners were sent in ships to Australia. This was 'transportation'. Elizabeth persuaded the government to make prison ships better, and to make sure that women prisoners found homes and jobs in Australia.
Helping the homeless
Elizabeth was shocked to hear about a poor boy who froze to death on a doorstep. She set up shelters where homeless children could get soup and bread, and a place to sleep.
Beggars in Brighton
In 1824, Elizabeth went on holiday in Brighton. Again she was shocked. So many beggars! She and her friends went out to give poor people food and clothes.
Life and times
Help in Parliament
Elizabeth's sister's husband, Thomas Buxton, was a Member of Parliament (MP). He told Parliament about her prison work, and she told MPs what she had seen in Newgate.
From the 1820s, new laws improved prisons. Women warders were put in charge of women prisoners. Warders were paid properly, instead of taking money from prisoners.
In 1828, Mr Fry's business failed. Elizabeth was not rich any more. She went on preaching, but did less charity work. She still believed poor people deserved good things, such as clean homes, medicines and libraries.
A school for nurses
In 1840 Elizabeth started a school for nurses at Guy's Hospital, in London. In 1854, Florence Nightingale took 'Fry nurses' with her to the Crimean War.
A famous woman
Elizabeth met Queen Victoria. She visited the king of France and the king of Prussia, to talk about better prisons.
She was now a famous woman. Some people said she should spend more time with her family, but Elizabeth knew her reform work mattered.
What Elizabeth Fry did
Elizabeth Fry inspired others by her example. She was a model for other women. She wrote a book about prison reform. Thanks to her, prisons became less awful places.
Elizabeth Fry died at Ramsgate in Kent, on 12 October 1845.