Magna Carta Women: Elizabeth Fry 1780-1845

Published: Wednesday 13 May 2015
Elizabeth Fry depicted in "Magna Carta Women" by Tracy Satchwill and a scan of Katherine Fry's letter to the BFSS held at the Archives.

Elizabeth Fry, nee Gurney, was a member of a prominent and well-connected Quaker banking family. As a young adult Fry became acquainted with liberal and reforming ideas, with the movement for universal suffrage, and was influenced by the humanitarian message of William Savery, an American Quaker who spoke of the importance of tackling poverty and injustice. She became inspired to be involved in helping local charities and at a local Sunday School, which taught children to read. In 1817, following her first visit to Newgate prison in 1813 when she had observed women and children in terrible conditions, Elizabeth Fry created the Association for the Improvement of Female Prisoners which lobbied authorities on prison reform.

What we have in the Archives:

A letter to the BFSS from Elizabeth Fry’s daughter Katherine dated 2nd September 1820, in which she says that her mother will distribute the BFSS papers on educating females in India. [Ref: BFSS/FC/India/3].

Several members of the Fry family, and their relatives by marriage the Gurneys, Buxtons, and Hoares, all of Victorian banking families, were supporters of the BFSS. By 1820 the cause of female education in India had strongly attracted the attention of the BFSS. The exploitation of women in India had been described by Wilberforce in his speeches in Parliament. The BFSS proposed raising a subscription sufficient to send out a school mistress to India. In 1821 Mary Cooke attended Borough Road College before departing for Calcutta to be employed by the newly formed Calcutta School Society.

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Page last updated: Thursday 14 May 2015