Elizabeth Fry lived from 1780 to 1845. She was brought up in a Quaker family and she became a ‘plain Quaker’ (i.e. only wore plain clothes)
After visiting Newgate Women’s Prison she was shocked at the appalling conditions the prisoners lived in, including very small babies with no blankets, and sick prisoners with no hospital facilities.
Along with the woman prisoners and some other Quaker women, she organised the ‘Association for the improvement of the female prisoners of Newgate’ and set up a school in the prison for the children, among other ventures including providing a matron and providing materials for the women to make things they could sell.
In 1818 she gave evidence to the House of Commons on London’s prisons, the first ever woman to do this and was able to stress the importance of employment for prisoners, and the Prison Act of 1823 contained many of her recommendations.
She also had a large effect on the treatment of prisoners going to the colonies, organising the provision of ‘useful bags’ of things, and protecting them from abuse through arranging for the provision of closed carriages to the ships.
Her work extended beyond Newgate as other committees of women were formed all over Britain to help prisoners, inspired by her example. She also wrote a book called, ‘Observations, on the visiting, superintendence and government of female prisoners’ which spread awareness of the plight of female prisoners and included strong condemnation of the death penalty.
June Rose in Prison Pioneer said about her, “Through her personal courage and involvement, Elizabeth Fry alerted the nations of Europe to the cruelty and filth in the prisons and revealed the individual human faces behind the prison bars. Her own passionate desire to lead a useful life disturbed the placid, vapid existence of women in Victorian England and changed forever the confines of respectable femininity. The name of Elizabeth Fry broadened the appeal of the Quaker faith . . . Over two hundred years after her birth, she seems a brave and modern woman, battling with the injustices of her time.'