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Elizabeth A.Sackler Center for Feminist Art

Elizabeth Fry

b. 1780, Norwich, Norfolk, England; d. 1845, Ramsgate, Kent, England

Elizabeth Fry, an English philanthropist and devout Quaker, dedicated her life to bettering the conditions of prisoners, the poor, and the homeless. In 1817, she co-founded the Association for the Improvement of the Female Prisoners in Newgate, which established a school for prisoners’ children and provided access to knitting materials so the women could make goods to earn an income. Invited to speak on prison conditions before the House of Commons, she attacked capital punishment, arousing the ire of politicians. In 1823, she embarked on an investigation of British prisons, aimed at collecting evidence to support reform legislation. The next year, on a visit to Brighton, where she was appalled by the number of beggars in the streets, Fry established a District Visiting Society, which organized teams of volunteers to visit the homes of the poor, assess their needs, and provide assistance. The Brighton society became a model for others across the country. Fry also founded a training school for nurses, which inspired the work of Florence Nightingale.