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Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa History

Elizabeth Fry was a British Quaker who worked to improve conditions for women incarcerated in poorhouses in England in the early 1800s.

Inspired by her efforts, and encouraged by the Archambault Report which stressed the benefits of visiting people in prison, in 1951, five volunteers from the University Women's Club of Ottawa began to visit women incarcerated in the Ottawa Jail.

From these early beginnings, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa has grown. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the Society expanded and at one point had as many as 16 full-time and 12 relief staff, plus over 100 volunteers. In 1973, Macphail House was opened to provide an alternative to jail for women in the justice system and to provide women in the community with a supportive environment to gain help with their personal issues.

In order to contact women at the beginning of the judicial process, the Society initiated a Volunteer Court Program in 1975, which continues to provide information and emotional support for women daily at court.

In 1979, at the request of the Ministry of Correctional Services, the Society opened Fergusson House, a Community Resource Centre for women awaiting trial, on probation or on Temporary Absence passes. A formalized program to recruit, train, and coordinate volunteers was put in place in the early 1980's. 1981 marked the beginning of the Counselling Program and by 1990 the caseload had risen to more than 150 women per year.

With the advent of the Young Offenders Act in 1985, Macphail House became an Open Custody facility for Young Offender women while retaining its commitment to women from the community; Fergusson House became certified as union local in 1985.

Macphail House closed on March 31st, 1993 due to the increasingly restrictive guidelines of the Provincial Government, which impacted the autonomy of the Society.

The agency has developed, with the continuing aid of funds from individuals, the United Way and Federal, Provincial, and Regional Governments.

Every effort is being made to increase public awareness of conditions in society, such as poverty and abuse that put women at risk of coming into conflict with the law.