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Who Was Elizabeth Fry?

Elizabeth Fry House

Elizabeth Fry was a British Quaker who worked to improve conditions for women incarcerated in poorhouses in England in the early 1800s. Early in 1813, Elizabeth Fry visited the women's section of Newgate Prison in London for the first time, and was shocked by the appalling conditions in which the female prisoners and their children were kept.

Fry's first innovation was the establishment of a school for the children of the prisoners. She and her lady-collaborators then introduced a system of classification of the prisoners, prison dress, constant supervision by a matron and monitors (chosen from among the prisoners), religious and elementary education, and paid employment. The result was a remarkable transformation of the daily life, the outward appearance, and the conduct of the prisoners.

To give the work a more permanent basis, in April 1817 the Ladies' Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate was founded, which extended in 1821 into the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. This appears to have been the first nationwide women's organization in Britain.