History's HEROES? 1780 - 1845

Elizabeth Fry

Who was she?

The Life of Elizabeth Fry

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By the pupils of City Academy, Norwich (formerly Earlham School)

Things you may not know about Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry was actually very shy but could also be obstinate. More
As a child, she was afraid of the dark. More
She loved her mother and was very afraid of losing her. More
She did not like learning but was very imaginative. More
She loved nature and collecting curiosities. More
When young, Elizabeth was known for wearing bright, colourful clothes. More
She loved grand company, was a great horsewoman, singer and dancer. More
She was very aware of what she saw as 'her faults'. More
She did not find it easy to give up her rich clothes and adopt plain Quaker ways. More
She struggled with her decision to become a plain Quaker because of her family. More
She felt that fashion and frivolous things would distract her from her work. More
She made rules for herself when she felt she was becoming too worldly. More
She was a practical rather than a spiritual type of person. More
When still in her teens, she started a Sunday school in the laundry at the family home in Earlham. More
She was very determined and not afraid to take risks. More
For more than 25 years, she regularly visited convict ships leaving for Botany Bay. More
She was a supporter of vaccination and trained in the procedure herself. More
She was skilled at caring for the sick; she established a nursing school and worked to improve standards. More
She detested violence of any kind. More
She had an extraordinary presence and was very persuasive. More
She believed in helping people to help themselves. More
She gave birth to 11 children. More
She struggled to reconcile demands of family, religion and good works. More
She suffered from bouts of bad health and very bad toothache! More
Her supporters included royalty. More
Elizabeth Fry was one of the ‘celebrities’ of her day. More

Elizabeth Fry in brief

My mind too much tossed by a variety of interests and duties — husband, children, household accounts, Meetings, the Church, near relations, friends, and Newgate....it is a little like being in the whirlwind and in the storm; may I not be hurt in it, but enabled quietly to perform that which ought to be done

Elizabeth Fry was a compassionate and determined woman who dedicated much of her adult life to helping those in need.

Born to a wealthy Quaker family in Norwich, she became concerned to do something for the welfare of others after hearing a Quaker preacher in 1797. She set up a Sunday school and began to visit the sick.

A visit to Newgate Prison in 1813, transformed her life. She devoted herself to humanitarian causes, beginning with the treatment of the female prisoners at Newgate and then expanding her concerns to conditions in British and European gaols.

She became the UK's most important woman penal reformer. Although known for her prison work, she also supported many other causes. She proposed reforms for mental asylums and worked for nursing standards. She supported moves for the education of working women and to provide better housing for the poor. She also founded hostels and soup kitchens for the homeless and destitute.

Elizabeth Fry Picture Gallery

See also the Norfolk Record Office (Slavery and Abolition section for teachers)

Source documents

Book extract
Rules for Prisoners
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