Elizabeth Gurney was born on May 21, 1780, in Norwich, England, the fourth of twelve children. In 1799, she became a strict Quaker and religion became her life. On August 19, 1800, Elizabeth married the wealthy and orthodox Quaker Joseph Fry. They had their first child in 1822 and ended up having eleven children. She became a Quaker minister in 1811.
A turning point in Elizabeth's life was her visit to Newgate Prison in London in 1813, where she visited the prisoners in the women's section. When she noticed the prisoners conditions, she was appalled and determined to do something about it. She created the Maternal Society in Brighton that same year, but didn't get started helping the prisoners until 1816, when she had enough confidence to devote herself to the prisoners' welfare.
It was in 1816 that Elizabeth began to do something about the treatment of the female prisoners at Newgate Prison. She first established a school for the prisoners' children, then created a classification system for the prisoners that included regulations for dress, supervision, education, and employment. In April 1817, she founded the Ladies' Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. It was extended in 1821 with the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, an organization thought to be the first women's organization in Britain nationwide.
From her accomplishments, Elizabeth became a national figure. She made journerys throughout Britain, visiting prisons as well as speaking on Quaker beliefs and prison reforms. She pleaded for better treatment of prisoners, religious toleration, and the abolition of slaery. In 1827, she wrote a handbook on her views of Newgate's prisoners called Observations on the Visiting, Superintendence, and Government, of Female Prisoners. She also created the Institution for Nursing Sisters (also called the Fry Nurses) in London in 1940 as an attempt to modernize Britain.
Elizabeth died from a stroke on October 13, 1845, in Ramsgale. She is buried in the Friends' Burial Ground at Barking on October 20, 1845. She was the creator of many things: District Societies for the poor, a Servants' Society, and libraries for England's coastguard, among others.
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