Our History

Elizabeth Fry

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

Elizabeth Fry’s first innovation was the establishment of a school for children of prisoners. She, along with others, 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, outward appearance, and conduct of the prisoners.

In April 1817, the Ladies’ Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate was founded. Expanded in 1821 into the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners, the Society is believed to be the first nationwide women’s organization in Britain.

Inspired by Elizabeth Fry’s efforts, five volunteers from the University Women’s Club of Ottawa began to visit women incarcerated at the Ottawa Jail. From these early beginnings, the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa has grown with the continual assistance from government grants, community funders, as well as generous individuals who donate their money.

Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa

Elizabeth Fry catalyzed the vision and mission that E Fry Ottawa stands for today. As an organization with deep connections to a broader network of Elizabeth Fry Societies across Canada, E Fry Ottawa continues this important legacy.

E Fry Ottawa is a community-based charitable organization that supports women and gender-diverse people who have been or who may become criminalized. We have been providing programs since 1951.

Highlights of our growth and expansion over the past six decades include the following:

  • Macphail House opened in 1973, providing an alternative to jail for women and a supportive environment for women living in the community.
  • Volunteer Court Program launched in 1975 and continues to provide information and emotional support to clients at court.
  • Fergusson House opened in 1979 – a Community Resource Centre for women awaiting trial, on probation, or on temporary absence passes.
  • Our counselling program launched in 1981 and had a caseload of 150 by the end of the decade.
  • With the advent of the Young Offenders Act in 1985, Macphail House became an open custody facility for young 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.

Since the 1990s, E Fry Ottawa has continued to develop and evolve to meet the needs of criminalized women and gender-diverse people. With core funding from all levels of government, we also rely on funds and donations from not-for-profit organizations and corporate and individual donors who understand and support our important work with some of our community’s most marginalized people.