Women's History Resource Site

King's College History Department

Elizabeth Fry

Elizabeth Fry, born at Norwich on May 21, 1780, was the daughter of wealthy banker and merchant, John Gurney. In August, 1800, she became the wife of Joseph Fry, a London merchant.

As early as 1813, Elizabeth began to make several visits to Newgate prison but the great public work of her life dates effectively from the formation of the association for the improvement of the female prisoners in Newgate in April 1817. Its aims included the separation of the sexes, classification of criminals, female supervision for women and adequate provisions for religious and secular instruction. The accomplishments of this association led to the extension of similar methods in other prisons. She visited prisons in Scotland and northern England. Through a visit to Ireland, which she made in 1827, she directed her attention to other detention houses besides prisons. Her visits led to the improvement of the hospital systems and treatment of the insane.

In 1838, Ms. Fry visited France, where she personally met with leading prison officials. In 1839 she received an official permit to visit all the prisons in France in return for a lengthy report. In the summer of 1840, she traveled through Belgium, the Netherlands and Prussia. In 1843, because of failing health, Ms. Fry was no longer able to travel but she still kept in contact with prison officials to monitor improvements. She died on October 12, 1845, at Ramsgate.

Annotated Bibliography

Anderson, George M. "Elizabeth Fry: timeless reformer." America 173 (Fall 1995): 22-3.

This two page journal article represents the history of prison reform and the treatment of women prisoners. The article makes reference to the 150th anniversary of Fry's death and recognizes the contributions she made to prison reform. The articles positive impact was its emphasis on Fry's reforming methods-- she would rather build self- esteem and develop skills than focus on punishment. The information provided is useful and accurate for the popular reader but for many scholars, it may be oversimplified.


Clay, Walter Lowe. The Prison Chaplain. Montclair. New Jersey.: Patterson Smith, 1969.

Written for a popular audience, this book is a collection of pamphlets and reports written by the Rev. John Clay, put together by his son, Walter, on the remedies of crime. The information contained in the book, according to the author, is fragmentary and imperfect. The book is not one in which a scholar would use to do sufficient research on Elizabeth Fry, instead, the book deals with most of the problems of crime and prison in early 19th century England. Information provided in the book only briefly focuses on the impact Fry had on prison reform. The material contained in the book is interesting for the general reader because it contains reports of events that occurred in early prisons but none of the information is referenced, making it useless to scholars.

The major aim of the book was for the Rev. John Clay's son to publically issue his work after he died, not to fully inform the public about Elizabeth Fry and the contributions she made to prison reform.


Fairhurst, James. "The Angel of Prisons." Ireland's Own 4539 (Fall 1996):5.

The brief one page article traces the life story of Elizabeth Fry. The article spends time focusing on Fry's Quaker upbringing and her commitment to help the less fortunate. Positive aspects include the emphasis on Fry's relationship with female prisoners at Newgate. Written for the popular audience, the article may be used by scholars to reference her relationship with the female prisoners.

Representing Fry as an angel, the major goal of the article was to inform readers, briefly, on the life of Elizabeth Fry and the contributions she made to prison reform.


Fry, Katherine. Memoir of the Life of Elizabeth Fry. Montclair, N.J.: Patterson Smith, 1974.

Katherine Fry, daughter of Elizabeth Fry, first published this 14 chapter memoir of her mother's life in 1847. Re-edited in 1974, the book tells the tale of Fry's life from her birth in 1780 to her death in 1845. The extended information is factual and interesting for the popular reader, but is a bit lengthy. Intended for scholars, the book is two volumes in one and contains extracts from Elizabeth Fry's personal journals and letters. The overall focus of the book is to discuss every major aspect of Fry's life. Information provided is accurate and useful for scholars who want to reference some primary sources pertaining to Fry's life.

Authenticity of the book is represented through the author, Fry's daughter. Also, the book contains a family tree in the front cover to help readers understand which family member the author is talking about.


Hubbard, Elbert. Little Journeys to the Homes of Famous Women. New York, N.Y.: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1897.

This small book presents brief summaries of famous women in history. The section dedicated to Elizabeth Fry does not focus on Fry as a prison reformer, but instead as a Quaker. Intended for an audience reading in the 1800's, the wording may confuse readers today. The information provided would be of no help to scholars, except to research Quaker life, because the primary focus of the book is to present Elizabeth Fry as a Quaker and good hearted person instead of a prison reformer.


Lewis, Georgina. Elizabeth Fry. London, England: Headley Brothers, 1909.

Intended for the general reader, the book tells the life story of Elizabeth Fry. The text is broken up into 16 chapters and each chapter represents an aspect of Fry's life (ex. birth, marriage, religion). Perhaps the most useful chapters to scholars would be chapter 2, which discusses Fry's calling to help the needy. The book describes in detail, why Fry felt the need to help others, something not found in most other works.

Several useful sections are appended in the book, including a chronological list of all important factors of Fry's life from 1780-1845, letters taken from Fry's diary and notes at the end of each chapter extending upon the text.

The information contained in the book may be used by scholars who want to extend their research but the overall audience is the general reader.


Pitman, E.R. Elizabeth Fry. Boston, Mass.: Roberts Brothers, 1886.

The outdated work presents Elizabeth Fry in an extremely positive manner. The brief book summarizes the contributions Fry made to prison reform throughout England. Information provided is accurate and reference is made to the sources of the information. Written for the general audience, the book is interesting and fun to read. The most positive attribute of the book is the letters written to Fry from female prisoners at Newgate. Despite the age of the book, the reading is quite simple and easy for the general reader. Helpful to readers and scholars is the review of the book at the end of the text. The New York Tribune, Chicago Evening Journal and Eclectic Monthly all review the book, helping the readers understand the attitude people had towards Fry in the early 1900's.


Whitney, Janet. Elizabeth Fry: Quaker Heroine. New York, N.Y.: Benjamin Blom, Inc., 1972.

The extended 16 chapter first focuses on Elizabeth Fry's family and husband and then deals with Fry in the prison reform scene. Also discussed are fry's religious beliefs and events that occurred after her death.

Illustrations of Fry and female prisoners are distributed throughout the book and the bibliography of all sources is located at the end of the text.

The positive attributes of the book are its reference to Fry's family life and her marriage to Joseph Fry. Also, the book contains accurate information on the life of Fry which scholars may make reference to but it is also written in a style that is intended for the general reader.


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URL: http://departments.kings.edu/womens_history/efry.html
Written by Kathleen Bradigan, 1998
Last Revision: 18 December 2001
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