FRY, ELIZABETH: English philanthropist, belonging to the Society of Friends; b. at Earlham (3 m. w. of Norwich), Norfolk, May 21, 1780; d. at Ramsgate (on the coast, 67 m. e.s.e. of London) Oct. 12, 1845. She was the third daughter of John Gurney, a banker of Norwich, and at the age of twenty was married to Joseph Fry, a wealthy London merchant. At the death of her father, in 1809, she spoke for the first time in public, and was soon recognized as a minister among the Friends. Her attention being drawn in 1813, by a report of Friends, to the wretched condition of criminals in the jails, she visited the prison at Newgate, and found nearly 300 women with their children crowded together in two wards and two cells, all sleeping on the bare floor. She at once instituted measures for the amelioration of prison morals and life, daily visiting the prison, reading to the prisoners the Scriptures, and teaching then to sew. A committee of women was organized in 1817 to carry on the work on a larger scale. These labors effected a great change in the condition of the criminals, and many profligate characters went out of the prison renewed.
In 1818, in company with her brother, J. J. Gurney, Mrs. Fry visited the prisons of northern England and Scotland, and in 1827 those of Ireland. She also visited Kaiserswerth (see DEACONESS, III., 2, a; FLIEDNER, THEODER), and was impressed with the advantage of training for nurses. Her efforts led to the formation of societies for the help of female criminals in various parts of Great Britain; and the fame of her labors stimulated the competition of women in foreign lands. In 1839, 1840, and 1841 she visited the Continent, extending her travels as far as Hungary, where many of the criminals slept in stocks, and whipping was universally practised, even to bastinadoing. Her efforts secured remedial legislation, and the organization of prison-reform societies in Holland, Denmark, France, Prussia, and other Continental countries. In the mean while her efforts secured the organization of a society (1839) for the care of criminals after their discharge from prison, and for the visitation of the vessels that carried the convicts to the colonies. See PRISON REFORM.
Mrs. Fry did not confine her labors to prison reform. She successfully prosecuted a plan to supply coast vessels and seamen's hospitals with libraries. A governmental grant was supplemented by liberal private donations which enabled her and the society to distribute 52,464 volumes among 620 libraries (report for 1836). She established a “nightly shelter for the homeless” in London, and instituted a society in Brighton to discourage begging and promote industry. In 1828 her husband became bankrupt, and thenceforth she was unable to continue the liberal contributions of money she had been in the habit of making, but her zeal and personal exertions continued unabated. She was a woman of even temper, great practical skill, tenderness of heart, and deep knowledge of Scripture. Her maxim was “Charity to the soul is the soul of charity."
Mrs. Fry published: Observations on Female Prisoners (London, 1827); Report by Mrs. Fry and J. J. Gurney on their Visit to Ireland (1827); Texts for Every Day in the Year (1831; translated into French. German, and Italian); and wrote a preface for John Venn's Sermon on the Gradual Progress of Evil (1827).
D. S. SCHAFF.