Saints and Sinners – Monday 12th October

Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer, 1845


“Blessed are the peacemakers.”

Elizabeth Gurney was born on 21st May 1780 in Norwich. Aged twenty, she married a strict Quaker by the name of Joseph Fry, who was a London merchant.

We know that Elizabeth Fry, as she became after her marriage, was a rather shy and modest person who was filled with personal fears and doubts. However, her bright personality must have shone through to give her the confidence to become a minister in the Society of Friends, and also, a noted and much respected preacher. Elizabeth had a vision for the world, as a place filled with hope and love, a vision which came through her deep faith, which she enacted in her daily life.

“Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.”

Elizabeth Fry is best remembered for the pioneering work she did in prison reform, and especially the work she carried out with, and for, women prisoners. This interest came about through a friend, who knowing that she was concerned about the poor and sick, took her to visit London’s notorious Newgate Prison.

What Elizabeth saw on that day altered the course of her life. It was one of those times when you suddenly realise that you have been changed forever.

“Blessed are the poor in spirt,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Newgate was a dark and dangerous place, where prisoners were crowded into dirty and unsanitary cells. Women and children were living thirty to a room, allowing little more than a space of six feet by two in which to sleep and live. Many were imprisoned there without trial.

Elizabeth was appalled. She began to work with, and for, the prisoners, speaking to them about hygiene, and encouraging them to clean their cells. She treated them not merely as prisoners, but as human beings worthy of kindness and respect.

“Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.”

Fry’s concern and love resulted in great strides being made in the conditions in which prisoners were held. She was also instrumental in the formation of a nightly shelter for the homeless of London. Elizabeth Fry died on the 12th October 1845, leaving a legacy of care which lives on to this day, right across our country.

“Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.”

Elizabeth Fry said, “It was an honour to appear on the side of the afflicted.” That is perhaps why she became known as the “angel of prisons.” A messenger from God who stood up for the downtrodden and the forgotten, the lowly and the reviled; a woman who put Jesus Christ into the centre of all she did; a woman who made Christ live in the lives of so many.

I believe that, were Elizabeth Fry alive today, she would be working very much in the field of human equality, in order to give women and girls the rights which they sadly still do not have in many parts of our world – an injustice which shames us all!

“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called the children of God.”

Stan Higginson
Team Vicar
(Town Centre Hub)