Jeffrey John–The practical compassion of Elizabeth Fry

The story of how a middle-class lady was able to reform the appalling conditions under which prisoners were treated in Britain and in many other countries, is a classic example of the way God can use unlikely people to extraordinary effect.

Elizabeth Fry was born Elizabeth Gurney in 1780 to a Norwich Quaker family whose Christian faith and traditions were to shape her life. Quakers preferred to dress in a style of plain clothing that made them instantly recognisable. They rejected violence in any form and believed everybody was equal before God and tried to ignore social rank. Unusually for that time, they believed that there should be equality between the sexes so that women often took leadership roles.

At the age of seventeen Elizabeth had a conversion experience and, ever after, was a woman who was committed to public and private prayer, to Bible reading and preaching, and to doing good to others.

Elizabeth was an anxious child who often suffered from ill health, a trait that persisted through her life. At the age of twenty she married Joseph Fry, with whom she was to have eleven children. Largely because of her husband’s support, Elizabeth’s childbearing did not get in the way of her social work.

In 1813 Elizabeth visited the women’s section of London’s notorious Newgate Prison and was horrified. The section – built for 60 but now containing 300 – was crowded with women and children who wore rags, slept on straw and suffered every kind of abuse. Quietly outraged, Elizabeth returned the next day with food and clothing, but crises in the family delayed her full involvement in prison work until 1816. Helped by others, she began regular visiting, bringing in food, clothes and books. She created a prison school and began schemes in which inmates could do work and learn skills. She read the Bible to the women and, with considerable effect, preached to them. Seeking to give inmates dignity and self-respect, she involved them in decision making….

Read it all.


Posted in Church History, England / UK, Prison/Prison Ministry, Religion & Culture