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Humanitarians. It all starts with just a bit of kindness in the heart…. Humanitarian Definition . ‘People who have actively worked to help and improve life for their fellow men and women (as well as other inhabitants of the world)’. Humanitarian - Selfless.

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It all starts with just a bit of kindness in the heart…

humanitarian definition
Humanitarian Definition

‘People who have actively worked to help and improve life for their fellow men and women (as well as other inhabitants of the world)’

humanitarian selfless
Humanitarian - Selfless

An action that is completed without expectation of reward or recognition

elizabeth fry biography
Elizabeth Fry- Biography

Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845) was a pioneering campaigner for better conditions in prisons during the Victorian Period. She was a middle class Quaker who sought to highlight the squalid and unsanitary conditions in British prisons and provide practical solutions to help improve conditions and reform prisoners. Gaining the support of prominence members of society, such as Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale, she played an important role in later legislation which improved conditions in prisons.

elizabeth fry biography1
Elizabeth Fry-Biography

Elizabeth Gurney was born, 21 May, 1780, in Norwich, Norfolk to a prominent Quaker family. Her father was a partner in Gurney bank, and her mother was a relative of the Barclays, who founded Barclays bank. After her mother died when she was 12, she took an active role in bringing up her other siblings. She also became friendly with Amelia Alderson, whose family were active in the movement for universal suffrage. Thus, as a young adult, Fry became acquainted with liberal and reforming ideas.

elizabeth fry biography2
Elizabeth Fry- Biography

When Elizabeth was 18, she 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. When she was 20 she married Joseph Fry, who was also a banker and Quaker. They moved to London and lived in the City of London and later (from 1809 - 1829) in East Ham. They had eleven children, five sons and six daughters.

elizabeth fry taking action
Elizabeth Fry- Taking Action

Around 1812, she made her first visit to Newgate prison, which housed both men and women prisoners, some of who were awaiting trial. Fry was shocked at the squalid and unsanitary conditions she found the prisoners in. The prisons were overcrowded and dirty, and Fry felt this fermented both bad health and fighting amongst the prisoners.


Writing in 1813, she wrote:

"All I tell thee is a faint picture of reality; the filth, the closeness of the rooms, the furious manner and expressions of the women towards each other, and the abandoned wickedness, which everything bespoke are really indescribable.”

Image: Newgate prison

elizabeth fry taking action1
Elizabeth Fry- Taking Action

She even spent the night in prison to get a better idea of what conditions were like. She sought to improve conditions by bringing in clean clothes and food. She also encouraged prisoners to look after themselves better; for example, she would suggest rules that they would vote on themselves.

elizabeth fry
Elizabeth Fry

She felt her mission was:

" … to form in them, as much as possible, those habits of sobriety, order, and industry, which may render them docile and peaceable while in prison, and respectable when they leave it."

elizabeth fry taking action2
Elizabeth Fry- Taking Action

She would put a better educated prisoner in charge and encourage them to cooperate in keeping their cells cleaner and more hygienic. Fry felt one of the most important things was to give prisoners a sense of self-respect which would help them to reform, rather than fall into bad habits and become re-offenders.

elizabeth fry taking action3
Elizabeth Fry- Taking Action

She wrote in 1817, that even small efforts helped to change the atmosphere in prisons. "Already, from being like wild beasts, they appear harmless and kind.” In 1817, she founded the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate, this later became the British Ladies' Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. It was one of the first nationwide women's organisation in Britain.

british ladies society for promoting reformation
British Ladies’ Society for Promoting Reformation

The aims of the organisation were:

"to provide for the clothing, the instruction, and the employment of these females, to introduce them to knowledge of the holy scriptures, and to form in them as much as lies in our power, those habits of order, sobriety, and industry which may render them docile and perceptible whilst in prison, and respectable when they leave it."

elizabeth fry humanitarian work
Elizabeth Fry- Humanitarian Work

As well as campaigning for better prisons, Fry also established a night shelter for the homeless, giving the homeless a place to stay. This was motivated by seeing a young boy dead on the street. In 1824, she instituted the Brighton District visiting society, which arranged for volunteers to visit the homes of the poor to offer education and material aid.

elizabeth fry creating change
Elizabeth Fry- Creating Change

At the time, it was unusual for a woman to have a strong public profile and move out of the confines of the home. Especially in the early years, Fry was criticised for neglecting her role as mother and housewife. In this regard, she can be seen as an important figure in giving women a higher profile in public affairs. She could be seen as an early feminist and fore-runner of the later suffragists, who campaigned for women to be given the vote.