Elizabeth Fry (Gurney) was born into a family of Quakers in 1780 in England. Her mother’s father, the Scottish theologian Robert Barclay, played an important role in defining early Quaker beliefs.
It was fortunate for all concerned that Quakers believed in the equality of women (250 years before they won the vote), otherwise Elizabeth Fry’s unusual talents in the area of prison reform might never have been realized.
Her insight, persistence, organizational ability and her willingness to see a “divine light” in every person resulted in striking reforms taking place in the manner in which women and children were treated in London’s Newgate Prison.
She was a strong proponent of humane treatment for prisoners and regarded by many as a leading expert in prison reform.
Most of her life was spent in England, although she did visit Ireland and continental Europe. She also offered advice to the Americas, Russia and Australia. She died in 1845 at the age of 66 years.
The first Canadian Elizabeth Fry Society was established in Vancouver in 1939. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) was originally conceived of in 1969 and was incorporated as a voluntary non-profit organization in 1978.
Today there are 24 member societies across Canada.