The Quakers: Ordinary People Doing Extraordinary Things

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845)

Campaigner for Prison Reform


Elizabeth Gurney was born into a banking family on 21 May 1780 in Norwich.


At the age of 18 she heard the preachings of an American Quaker and being motivated by his words, began to take an interest in the poor of society.


She married Joseph Fry, a fellow banker and Quaker, in 1800 and moved to London.


Around 1812 she visited Newgate Prison with a friend and was particularly horrified at the living conditions she witnessed. She returned the very next day with clothes and food but it was not until four years later that she was able to make some real changes.


Fry began a prison school for the children imprisoned with their mothers and also supervised sewing and bible study sessions with the ladies themselves.


This work led to the creation of the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners' and Fry became the first woman to present evidence in Parliament when she reported on prison conditions to the Home Secretary.


Fry faced strong critiscism from some for having such an influential role but she also had many admirers for the fantastic changes she had enabled.


Elizabeth Fry died from a stroke on 12 October 1845.


For more information visit our learning resource on Prison and Penal Reform in the 1800s.

Map of former site of Newgate Prison, London»

Document icon Learning article provided by: Campaign! Make an Impact |  Ryedale Folk Museum | 
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