A LITTLE more than one hundred years ago lived the woman whose kindly face looks out at us from the accompanying engraving. Elizabeth Fry was born May 21, 1780. Her father, John Gurney, was a wealthy merchant and banker, living near Norwich, England. Her parents belonged to the Society of Friends, as had their ancestors for several generations. In 1798, William Savery, an American Friend, made a visit to the Friends in England. At this time, Elizabeth was inclined to love dress and pleasure; but under the influence and preaching of this godly minister, the whole course of her life was changed, and she became an earnest and consistent Christian. She began to visit the poor on her father's estate, aiding them in temporal and also in spiritual things. For the benefit of the poor children in the vicinity, she organized and taught a school, which grew so rapidly that it soon numbered nearly one hundred scholars.

Two years after this time she married Joseph Fry, a wealthy London merchant. In this city, Mrs. Fry found a large field of usefulness. Her husband nobly encouraged all her benevolent plans, aiding her whenever he could. She became the mother of a family of eleven children; and although she personally gave them the most careful training, she still found time to help her suffering fellow-creatures.

Ten years after her marriage, she became a preacher among the Friends, doing, in this capacity, faithful and efficient work. Gradually her attention was turned to the deplorable condition of the inmates of the prison houses, and she set about producing a reform in the prison regulations. To understand the Herculean task that Mrs. Fry had set herself to, we must know something of the condition of the prisons at that day. There were then no separate apartments for men and women, but parents and children, men and women, young and old, were herded together like wild beasts. In one hundred jails, capable of holding only eight thousand and five hundred persons, were found thirteen thousand. Under such circumstances, it happened that many went away from the prison house far more familiar with vice and crime than when they entered its walls.

It required no small amount of courage to enter one of these dens; yet Mrs. Fry did not shrink from the task before her. By her dignity and gentleness she gained the respect of the prisoners, and won their attention. On her second visit to Newgate prison, she read to them the parable of the lord of the vineyard, as related in Matthew's Gospel. Finding on her next visit that the prisoners were still willing to be helped, she began, in one of the cells, a school for the children, many of whom were under seven years of age. She then set about furnishing employment for the women. To carry out this plan the more successfully, she formed a committee of twelve ladies, some of whom every day visited the prison, teaching the women how to sew and knit, and reading to them from good books.

Mrs. Fry's system required separate apartments for the men and women, and such a classification of individuals that those young in crime should be away from those who had spent a lifetime in sin; it compelled the prisoners to work, and provided for regular instruction. The sheriffs and officers of the prisons heartily approved of these efforts. In a few months the most astonishing results were seen. The blasphemy and obscenity ceased, and the women were reclaimed to an upright life and habits of industry and piety.

After such a success among the London prisoners, Mrs. Fry received many urgent calls to help in other places; accordingly she journeyed through the more populous portions of England, laying her plans before the people. In almost every town of considerable size, a ladies' aid association was formed. As far away as St. Petersburg, the people heard of the fame of this enterprise, and began a similar reform themselves. Queen Victoria befriended the movement, and lent it her aid. Mrs. Fry afterward visited the Continent, inspecting the prisons of France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, and Prussia. This work made sad in-roads on her health, and in 1842 she was obliged to relinquish her plans for greater activity. But she had the satisfaction of knowing that the authorities throughout Europe were becoming aroused to the need of a reform, and were putting into practice the principles she advocated.

In the spring of 1845 she visited Bath, but receiving no benefit from the change, returned to her home, where she died October 12, 1845. She was sincerely mourned throughout Europe. As it was said of one of America's heroes, so might it be said of her:—


"Were a star quenched on high,

For ages would its light,

Still traveling downward from the sky,

Shine on our mortal sight.

"So when a great man dies,

For years beyond our ken,

The light he leaves behind him lies

Upon the paths of men."



W. E. L.