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 prison visits, in 1951, five volunteers from the University Women’s Club of Ottawa began to visit women incarcerated in the Ottawa Jail.
Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s, E Fry Ottawa continued to expand.
- In 1973, Macphail House was opened, providing an alternative to jail for women and a supportive environment for women in the community to address personal issues.
- Our Volunteer Court Program launched in 1975 and 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.
- In the early 1980s we launched a formal program to recruit, train, and coordinate volunteers, followed by our Counselling Program (1981), which had an annual caseload of more than 150 women by 1990.
- 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. Macphail House closed in 1993 due to increasingly restrictive guidelines of the Ontario government of the day, which impacted the autonomy of the Society.
E Fry Ottawa has continued to develop and evolve to meet the needs of marginalized and at-risk women and girls, supported by funding from individuals, the United Way and federal, provincial, and local governments.
Today, E Fry Ottawa remains the only organization in the area that advocates for and supports women in the criminal justice system, or at risk of coming into conflict with the law. Our two residences (transitional house and bail bed house), counselling, court support, housing support and other services fill a unique set of needs of marginalized women in Ottawa. Our work to advocate for women, and for the abolition of prisons, continues. We work to increase public awareness of conditions, such as poverty and abuse, that put women at risk of coming into conflict with the law.