Who was Elizabeth Fry?

Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney) (21 May 1780 – 12 October 1845) was an English prison reformer, social reformer and, as a Quaker, a Christian philanthropist.

Prompted by a family friend, Elizabeth Fry visited Newgate Prison in 1813. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women’s section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. They did their own cooking and washing in the small cells, where they slept on straw. She returned the following day with food and clothing for some of the prisoners.

She did not return to Newgate until 1816; however, upon her return, she was able to found a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their parents. She began a system of supervision and focused on various reforms, including those that became themes for her: segregation of the sexes, female matrons for female prisoners, education, employment (often knitting and sewing), and religious instruction.

In 1817, she helped found the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. In 1819, she wrote a report on prison reform. In the 1820s, she inspected prison conditions, advocated reforms and established more reform groups, including many with female membership. By 1821, with direct support and advocacy from Elizabeth Fry, a number of women’s reform groups came together as the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners.

It was fortunate for all concerned that Quakers believed in the equality of women (250 years before they won the vote), otherwise Elizabeth Fry’s skills and efforts in the area of prison reform might never have been realized. Her insight, persistence, organizational ability and her willingness to see a “divine light” in every person resulted in striking reforms taking place in the manner in which women and children were treated in Newgate Prison.

Most of her life was spent in England, although she did visit Ireland and continental Europe. She also offered advice to the Americas, Russia and Australia. She died in 1845 at the age of 66 years.

History of Elizabeth Fry Society of North Eastern Ontario

The Elizabeth Fry Society Sudbury Branch was established in 1972 by a group of concerned individuals from the Sudbury community and is an autonomous community-based non-profit charitable organization.   Built on volunteers, volunteers still play an active role in all aspects of the organization.  The Society is governed by a voluntary Board of Directors, comprised of community members.
The Society delivers programming that contributes to improving the knowledge, life skills, coping strategies, and stability of criminalized and ‘at risk’ women and young women in Northern Ontario.  Services are offered in correctional facilities, in court, in the community and at the agency.
The Society also focuses on promoting and providing community-based alternatives to incarceration and promoting community awareness of criminal and social justice issues.

In 2013, the Society began expansion of services to the North  Bay area, offering programming for women and girls incarcerated at the North Bay Jail and Near North Detention Centre. With the expansion of services to this area, soon came an opportunity to develop a Bail Verification and Supervision Program for the Nipissing District. In 2018, the membership voted to change the name of the Society to The Elizabeth Fry Society of Northeastern Ontario, reflecting service provision in various programs across the Northeast from Mattawa, North Bay, Sturgeon Falls to Sudbury, Espanola, Massey and Sagamok Anishnabek First Nation.