Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: Fry, Elizabeth from Philip's Encyclopedia

English social worker and prison reformer. A committed Quaker, she agitated for more humane treatment of women prisoners and convicts transported to Australia. She was also involved in attempts to improve working conditions for nurses and facilities for women's education.


Summary Article: Fry, Elizabeth
from The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

English Quaker philanthropist. From 1813 she began to visit and teach the women in Newgate Prison in London who lived with their children in terrible conditions. She formed an association for the improvement of conditions for female prisoners in 1817, and worked with her brother, Joseph Gurney (1788–1847), on an 1819 report on prison reform. She was a pioneer for higher nursing standards and the education of working women.

Her work extended to other prisons, and for 25 years she visited every ship bound with women convicts for Australia, arranging instruction and activity. Her unflagging devotion, magnetic personality, reports to the government, and published pamphlets enlisted public sympathy and led to official enquiry and reform. Her principal demands were for segregation by sex and criminal classification, female supervision for women, and the provision of education and occupation. Between 1838 and 1842 she carried her work to European prisons in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, and Switzerland. Outside the prison system, she campaigned for better housing and working conditions for the poor, provided library material for lighthouse stations, and inspected mental asylums.

Elizabeth Fry was the daughter of John Gurney, a Quaker banker of Norwich, her birthplace. She married Joseph Fry in 1800, a London Quaker banker and tea merchant, who was related to the Fry family of Bristol, founders of the Fry's chocolate business. In 1810 she became a minister for the Society of Friends. Her husband suffered bankruptcy in 1828.

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles


Full text Article Fry, Elizabeth
Dictionary of British History

(1780-1845) Prison reformer. Mrs Fry, a Quaker minister, was horrified when visiting Newgate prison (1813) by the conditions under which women...

Full text Article Fry, Elizabeth
Encyclopedia of Women Social Reformers

(1780–1845) United Kingdom One of the most widely disseminated didactic stories of social reform in Britain is that of the Quaker prison...

Full text Article Fry, Elizabeth (1780 - 1845)
The Penguin Biographical Dictionary of Women

Were ladies to make a practice of visiting them [i.e., hospitals, lunatic asylums, and workhouses], a most important check...

See more from Credo