Fry Elizabeth

Fry Elizabeth, an eminent female philanthropist, was the daughter of John Guerney, a rich banker near Norwich, and a member of the Society of Friends. She was born May 21, 1780, at Bramerton. "The benevolence of her disposition displayed itself by her habit, while yet a girl, of visiting the poor on her father's property, and forming a school for the education of their children. Under the teaching of William Savery, an American Friend, she was brought to the knowledge and love of the truth. Her character froan that day was entirely changed, and she became a genuine snd consistent Christian. In 1800 she was married to Joseph Fry, Esq., of Loondon, and consequently settled in the metropolis. There she resumed her early habit of visiting the poor; and although she became the mother of a large family, who were most tenderly loved and assiduously trained, she yet found leisure, by a rigid economy of time and arrangement of domestic duties, to render her beneficent offices to her poor and suffering fellow-creatures. In 1810 she became a preacher among the Friends. Every day was she found visiting charity-schools, in the houses and lanes of the poor, and in the wards of sick hospitals, till at length, by a providential train of circumstances, she was led to extend her benevolent attentions to the inmates of a prison and a lunatic asylum (1813). The accents of Christian love found entrance into the hearts of those wretched outcasts, and she became the honored instrument of remodeling the discipline and improving the state of our national prisons. At the commencement of her career there was no classification of any sort, no separation between male and female prisoners; all criminals, parents and children, men and women, those who were comparatively innocent with the inveterately depraved, were indiscriminately huddled together, and in these circumstances many left the prison far more familiar with crime than when they entered it. It required no small resolution and faith to enter such a den of iniquity as a British jail at that period was, but Mrs. Fry attempted it and was successful. Her dignity, and at the same time her feminine gentleness, subdued their ferocity and won their attention. She told them that vice was the cause of all their misery; that if they would return to virtuous habits they might again be happy, and she proposed rules for their observance, of which they unanimously expressed their approval. Repeating her visit after a brief interval, and finding them equally tractable and submissive, she proceeded with her contemplated measures. She appointed a teacher to those children who had been committed for petty offences, and many of whom were under seven years of age. Even their profligate mothers took an interest in this infant school. Mrs. Fry next devised some employment for the women, by teaching them to seew, and supplying them with work. For the accomplishnent of this arduous undertaking she formed a ladies committee (1817), some of whom made it a sacred duty to attend in the prison daily, so that there was not a moment when the females were not under the superintendence of some proper and efficient guide. A matron was at length appointed to live in the prison, and take the oversight of the female prisoners. But the ladies committee still continued their attendance, one giving instruction in needlework, another in knitting, while a third read some good religious book, and spoke to them about the guilt and the wages of sin, the duty and superior happiness of a sober, chaste, and religious life. In a few weeks the most astonishing moral revolution was effected within the walls of the prison; not only the language of blasphemy, obscenity, and fiendish discord entirely disappeared, but women of the most abandoned characters were reclaimed to established habits of sobriety, industry, and piety. The public interest was greatly excited by the intelligence. Visitors of the highest official station and noble rank visited the schools, and the most undoubted testimonies were borne to the excellent principles and efficient working of these benevolent schemes. Mrs. Fry, while she continued her inspection of the prisons, extended her benevolent regards to other classes, such as making provision for female convicts both during their voyage out and at their allotted stations. She also visited all the principal jails in Scotland and Ireland, France, Holland, Denseark, and Prussia, and her last scheme of philanthropy was begun with a view to benefit British seamen, particularly to alleviate the miserable state of the coast guard; forming libraries and adopting means for circulating books and tracts in men-of-war ships. These anxious and multifarious labors made serious inroads on the health of this excellent lady. After trying the waters of Bath in the spring of 1845, she returned home no way improved, and gradually sank till she expired at Ramsgate, October 12. Her death was lamented throughout Europe as a loss to humanity. She was, as she has often been called, the female Howard, and, like her prototype, her benevolent exertions were the fruit of a lively and established faith in the Gospel of Christ." — Rich, Cyclopaedia of Biography; Memoirs of Elizabeth Fry, by her daughters (London, 1848, 2 volumes; New York, 1850, 2 volumes, 8vo); Corder, Life of Mrs. Fry (London, 1853); Methodist Quart. Review, April, 1851, art. 3; North Brit. Rev. 9:136; Princeton Review, 20:31.

 
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