Elizabeth Fry Reformer and Quaker

Elizabeth Fry social reformerElizabeth Fry, nee Gurney, 1780 – 1845, was a reformer and Quaker philanthropist whose work in prison reform was and still is inspirational.

Read on to find out how her work inspired another great reformer, Florence Nightingale.

    • Elizabeth was born in Norwich into a Quaker family, both her parents families were established bankers and by all accounts her early childhood was very comfortable. Sadly her mother died when she was just twelve and her role changed to one of carer for her younger siblings.
    • She was inspired to help those less fortunate by the work of the American Quaker, William Savery. She married Joseph Fry, a banker and they moved to London where she had eleven children. In 1811 she became a Quaker Minister and by 1813 was persuaded to begin her visits to Newgate Prison.
    • The shock of what she saw there determined the path for the rest of her life, she organised food and clothes to be taken into the prison to support the women and children who were being held in the most appalling conditions.
    • Her own life took a turn for the worse as the collapse of her husbands banking career left them destitute but she did not give up on her mission.

What follows is an overview of her work, expanded in other posts…..

    • She established a prison school for those children incarcerated with their parents.
    • In 1817 she formed the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate
    • She was the first woman to present evidence to parliament
    • She persuaded parliament to introduce a series of penal reforms resulting in the Gaol Act 1823
    • Elizabeth established a night shelter for the homeless in London
    • She established a web of ‘Visiting Societies’ to comfort the poor
    • She campaigned for reform in mental asylums
    • Elizabeth opened a nurse training school at Guys Hospital , inspiring Florence Nightingale to carry out her work in the Crimean War


The work of this great woman cannot be underestimated, at a time when a woman’s role was seen as wife and mother her achievements are breathtaking. Criticism dogged her but she never let it stand in the way of her goals and she inspired others to follow in her suit.

Read more about Elizabeth Fry and her heroic work

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