History's HEROES? 1780 - 1845

Elizabeth Fry

Should Elizabeth Fry be considered a hero?

Below are some of the main arguments that have been put forward concerning whether Elizabeth Fry should be regarded as a hero. Drop and drag the ones you agree with onto the scales. You can also add some of your own arguments.


Arguments for
  • Elizabeth Fry's whole life was dedicated to humanitarian work with the poor.
    This included those viewed as outcasts. Her work continued until a few months before her death.
  • She led by example.
    Her role was not of a remote organiser or benefactor; instead, she personally visited and worked with the women in the prisons to improve their chances and conditions.
  • She had courage.
    Despite being shy by nature, she entered the prison alone when the turnkey warned her not to, saying: "They'll tear off your things and scratch and claw you”. Instead her calm manner and concern for their children touched the women, who felt she treated them as of some account.
  • She made a difference to the lives of many women.
    She helped them feel self-respect, giving them hope, an opportunity to learn and comforting the most desperate. She read and prayed with the women awaiting transportation and execution, and appealed to the authorities on their behalf.
  • She inspired other women to play a fuller role in society.
    At the time it was unusual for a woman to have a voice outside the home.
  • She persevered patiently, year after year.
    It took many years to implement all the changes she wanted. Even the original prison school was opposed until the Governor, impressed by the behaviour of the women, relented.
  • She had great compassion.
    For example, she established a "nightly shelter" in London for the destitute, after seeing the body of a young boy in the street during the winter of 1819-1820.
  • She was incredibly influential.
    Her influence was felt in parliament even to the point where the queen knew her name and what she was doing. Her ideas on prison reform were influential long after her death.
Arguments against
  • Elizabeth Fry enjoyed her 'celebrity' status too much.
    Elizabeth Fry become a well-known personality in Britain. She was so well respected that her work received support from the queen, and the king of Prussia visited her. It was argued that she derived too much pleasure from her influence and connections with wealthy people.
  • She neglected her family for her work.
    To do the work she had to do, she must have neglected her family. By the 1820s, Elizabeth Fry was strongly criticised for the professional role she played outside the home and was attacked in the press for neglecting her home and family.
  • She encouraged lawlessness and crime
    Elizabeth Fry’s work met with stiff resistance in Parliament, where there was overwhelming support for capital punishment. Some even accused her of being ‘dangerous’ because she encouraged the ‘criminal classes’.

Arguments for:

    Arguments against:



      Now that you have seen the arguments for and against, you can

      Cast your votes
      E2B® and E2BN® are registered trade marks and trading names of East of England Broadband Network (Company Registration No. 04649057)
      Terms and Conditions