The Reeve’s Tale magazine website 

 

 

Fry, Elizabeth Gurney(1780-1845), English prison reformer, born Elizabeth Gurney at Norwich, Norfolk, on May 21 1780, and brought up at Earlham Hall. She was the daughter of a Quaker banker. In 1800 she married another Quaker, Joseph Fry, and became a minister and preacher for the Society of Friends in 1810. Always attentive to the poor and neglected, her interest in prison conditions began after visiting Newgate prison in 1813 and seeing the plight of women and children there. She fought for what are now regarded as first principles: classification of criminals, segregation of the sexes, female supervision of women, productive labour, general hygene, and provision for education. 

In 1818 she gave evidence before a Parliamentary group - called the House of Commons Committee on London Prisons ( or Borough Prisons or Metropolis Prisons - exact title not known), and later saw many of her proposed reforms carried out. Several sources say that she 'was the first woman not a queen' to receive the invitation to give evidence before a Parliamentary Committee

But her zeal did not stop there. For 20 years she checked every female convict ship before it sailed; inspected prisons and mental hospitals in Scotland and Ireland; instituted a Nursing Order; provided libraries for coastguard stations; and struggled for housing and employment for the poor. Between 1838 and 1842 she visited all the prisons in France, reporting to the Interior Minister, and travelled through Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, and Denmark on similar missions. Ill-health prevented further travels, but everywhere she had been the authorities put her suggestions to practical effect. She died at Ramsgate, Kent, on October 12, 1845.


 
 

The Gurney Family