Elizabeth Fry: Christian Feminist and One of History's Heroes

It is a malicious lie that advocating for the rights of women produces self-centered women who lose regard for the Word of God and care nothing for their husbands and families.
   Elizabeth Fry is counted among early feminists, and it was the fact of her motherhood that moved her to compassion in promoting the education of women so mothers could provide for themselves and their children. She understood that it was unrealistic to believe that every woman would have a husband to provide for her in the restricted society they lived in.
   Fry operated under no such delusion that “femininity” was the highest calling in a woman’s life, or that breaking from the accepted mold was unwomanly.
   In 1818, Fry, a Quaker, became the first woman in the British Empire to speak before the House of Commons. Her subject was prison reform. At the time, men and women were not granted separate quarters in English prisons, and children were often imprisoned with their convicted mothers. Young children were convicted of crimes, imprisoned, and executed. Prisoners had no food or clothing unless friends, family, or fellow prisoners provided these things for them.  
   Elizabeth Fry could see that prison reform was badly needed, and she rose to the occasion.
   Many of the women in prison, were there for stealing food to feed themselves and their children. The “True Woman” cult that prevailed in the nineteenth century had nothing to offer women who had no men to protect and provide for them. Fry identified the lack of education as a contributing factor to the imprisonment of women whose only crime was attempting to keep themselves and their children alive. So, she began schools in the prisons, first for the children, and then for their mothers.
   The education of women was an important aspect of the women’s rights movement. During most of the 1800’s all universities were still closed to women. Fry, who eventually became the mother of eleven children, focused much of her work on women and children, but her compassion extended to men and included prison reform for them as well.
   She traveled throughout Europe educating Monarchs and government officials on the need for prison reform. 
   Can anyone fault Fry’s motives in publicly advocating for the rights of prisoners to have decent living conditions and for the right of women to an education? Can anyone doubt that God called this woman to do the work she did?
   Jesus said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.”
   What are the fruits of Elizabeth Fry’s "agenda?" The compassion she felt for the women she helped is indisputable. Until her death, in 1845, Fry never failed to visit convict ships [carrying women] before they set sail for the penal colonies.  


In honor of Women's History Month, this post is an excerpt from the book, Woman this is WAR! Gender, Slavery, and the Evangelical Caste System, taken from the chapter "Women with an 'Agenda.'"

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