Fry, Elizabeth (1780-1845)

Portrait of Elizabeth Fry on a British five pound note (since 2001). Portrait of Elizabeth Fry on a British five pound note (since 2001).

Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney) was a social reformer, who is most noted for her work in prisons. She was born in Norwich, England, into a Quaker family. In 1799 she married Joseph Fry (1777-1861), a banker in London, with whom she had eleven children. Elizabeth Fry became a Quaker minister in 1810.

Fry first started to visit female prisoners in Newgate Prison, London, in 1813, and was appalled at the overcrowding and squalor. She organised groups of women to bring clothes, food and clean bedding to the prisoners. As a result, she was given the nickname 'the Angel of Prison'. In 1817 Fry formed the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate, a group that organised a school for the children imprisoned with their mothers, as well as classes in knitting, sewing and patchwork quilting. The Association (later expanded into the British Society of Ladies for the Reformation of Female Prisoners) raised donations of cloth and thread from Quaker businesses and markets for the prisoners’ work.

In 1818 Fry was asked to testify before the British House of Commons on prison conditions; in doing so she became the first woman to present evidence in British Parliament. She campaigned throughout her life for increased opportunities for women.

See also the TRC Needles entries on the convict quiltand the Rajah quilt.


Last modified on Monday, 01 May 2017 16:40