Elizabeth Gurney was born in Norwich in 1780. The Gurneys were a wealthy Quaker banking family and Elizabeth’s mother Catherine was part of the Barclay family. She married Joseph Fry in 1800, settled in East London and had 11 children.
In 1813, Elizabeth Fry began visiting female prisoners, held with their children in Newgate Prison. She presented evidence of unsanitary conditions to the House of Commons demanding improved conditions. This led to reforms bringing hope of rehabilitation, including better provision of cells, schools for children, and the opportunity for women to create items for sale.
She campaigned endlessly for penal reform and the abolition of capital punishment and visited prisons across Britain and Europe.
Elizabeth Fry also worked with the homeless and with the poor, distributing clothing, food, and medicine. She was an advocate of the smallpox vaccination.
In 1840, she established a training school for nurses called the Society of Nursing Sisters. This school inspired Florence Nightingale who established her own training school in 1860.
She died in 1845 and was buried in Barking; her headstone has since been moved to Wanstead Quaker Burial Ground.
From 2002–2017 Elizabeth Fry’s portrait was on the Bank of England £5 note, recognising her lasting influence on social reform.
The Library in Friends House contains 17 volumes of her personal journal.