The Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough

In 1986 in Peterborough, community organizer Pat Love established a steering committee. By 1987 the Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough had been founded, and by 1989 it was incorporated.

Between 1994 and 2004 the number of women in prison increased by almost 200 percent and contributed to a significant increase in the number of criminalized women in need of community re-integration supports. The Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough responded by hiring a Court Support Worker, and by providing women with compassionate counselling, programming, and support and referral services.

We change one choice at a time. In 2005 the Central East Correctional Centre (CECC) was established in the nearby town of Lindsay. The Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough advocated against the issue of overcrowding in the cells and being assigned 3-to-a-bunkbed. After receiving specialized training to work in the prison, support workers began teaching prisoners the Taking Control: Making Healthy Choices program. Additionally, they ran a creative writing program which raised a prisoner’s self-esteem and facilitated personal change, one choice at a time.

Peterborough area police and court officials recognize the social and economic effectiveness of providing community-based programs to women whenever possible (instead of charging, sentencing, or incarcerating). When justice officials began diverting women from the justice system to Elizabeth Fry Society supportive counselling and programming, we began to see better win/win outcomes for women and for community safety.

In 1990 the Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough gained charitable status, and in 1992 became a United Way member agency.

In 2006, our first annual Canada Day Fun Run attracted a good turnout, thanks to the organizing efforts of many volunteers, staff, and clients.

The Elizabeth Fry Society of Peterborough continues to provide representation at the federal and provincial levels through its affiliation with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies and the Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario.

Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario (CEFSO)

The Council of Elizabeth Fry Societies of Ontario (CEFSO) was established in 1952, initially meeting informally in the communities with member societies. CEFSO was formally registered as a non-profit corporation in 1985.

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS)

The first Canadian Elizabeth Fry Society was founded in Vancouver in 1939 by Member of Parliament Agnes MacPhail. The Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) was conceived in 1969 and was incorporated as a voluntary non-profit organization in 1978. Today there are 24 member societies across Canada.

Elizabeth Fry: The Woman

Elizabeth Fry (née 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.

At 18 years old, the young Elizabeth was deeply moved by the preaching of William Savery, an American Quaker. Motivated by his words, she took an interest in the poor, the sick, and the prisoners. She collected old clothes for the poor, visited those who were sick in her neighbourhood, and started a Sunday school in the summer house to teach children to read.

Prompted by a family friend, Stephen Grellet, Fry visited Newgate prison. The conditions she saw there horrified her. The women’s section was overcrowded with women and children, some of whom had not even received a trial. They did their own cooking and washing in the small cells in which they slept.

She returned the following day with food and clothes for some of the prisoners. She was unable to further her work for nearly 4 years because of difficulties within the Fry family, including financial difficulties in the Fry bank. Fry returned in 1816 and was eventually able to found a prison school for the children who were imprisoned with their parents. She began a system of supervision and required the women to sew and to read the Bible. In 1817 she helped found the “Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners” in Newgate. This led to the eventual creation of the “British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners”, widely described by biographers and historians as constituting the first nationwide women’s organization in Britain.

In 1818 Fry gave evidence to a House of Commons committee on the conditions prevalent in British prisons, becoming the first woman to present evidence in Parliament.

Fry and her brother, Joseph John Gurney, took up the cause of abolishing capital punishment. At that time, people in England could be executed for over 200 crimes. Early appeals to the Home Secretary were all rejected, until Sir Robert Peel became the Home Secretary, when they finally got a receptive audience. They persuaded Peel to introduce a series of prison reforms that included the Gaols Act of 1823. Fry and Gurney went on a tour of the prisons in Great Britain. They published their findings of inhumane conditions in a book entitled Prisons in Scotland and the North of England.

Elizabeth’s 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.

(Excerpts from Wikipedia: “Elizabeth Fry”)