FRY, ELIZABETH

Quaker Reformer, Elizabeth Fry, Asks if the 'Prefet de Police would give him an order to visit the Prisons in Paris'

Item #19940


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FRY, ELIZABETH - Quaker Reformer, Elizabeth Fry, Asks if the 'Prefet de Police would give him an order to visit the Prisons in Paris'
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FRY, ELIZABETH - Quaker Reformer, Elizabeth Fry, Asks if the 'Prefet de Police would give him an order to visit the Prisons in Paris'

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FRY, ELIZABETH. (1780-1845). Prominent English Quaker, philanthropist and prison reformer. ALS. (“Eliz. Fry”). 4pp. 8vo. Upton Lane, May 13, 1838. (To French politician and banker FRANÇOIS-MARIE DELESSERT, 1780-1868.)

 

“My dear Friend, I received thy dear wife’s interesting account of the great loss you have sustained in the death of your valuable & honourable mother [in law]. I truly feel what the loss must be to her kindred to you all for she was no common person. I thought her much gifted naturally & spiritually. I trust she is now for ever at rest in Jesus! ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord yea saith the spirit. They rest from their labours & their works do follow them.’ I believe she was of this number. I hope soon to write to thy dear wife upon the subject. My brother Saml. Moore [viz. Fry’s co-religionist] is the bearer of this note accompanied by his family. Of course under your afflicting circumstances I cannot expect you to pay him attention only I must beg the favour of thee to obtain for him an order from thy brother Benjamin to visit some of your most important hospitals particularly The Bicetre and such as he may think most desirable for him to see, as he is a magistrate of considerable influence in Middlesex. He also is anxious to see your principal prisons. Therefore I should also feel much obliged if thy brother the Prefet de Police would give him an order to visit the Prisons in Paris. As their stay is likely to be short I should be glad if he may soon have these orders. He has a very interesting daughter in law with him a widow & his two own daughters. Had you been in usual circumstances I think you would have been pleased to have seen them. I believe there has been some mistake about the money for the dentifrice being properly paid for by the person I sent the money by. I now mean to have it properly done. My love & sympathy flow toward thy dear wife & … [erased]. I am affectionately & gratefully thy friend…”

 

Born into a family of prominent Quaker bankers, Elizabeth Fry took an early and deep interest in philanthropy, and, following her visit to London’s notorious Newgate Prison in 1813, she became an ardent prison reformer. Appalled by the conditions in which women and children were held, she personally delivered food, sewing supplies and bibles, eventually founding the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate and the British Ladies’ Society for Promoting the Reformation of Female Prisoners. She became the first woman to address Parliament when she gave evidence about prison conditions, and campaigned against the practice of transporting convicts to penal colonies to ease overcrowding. Thanks to her efforts, such transfers were officially abolished in 1837.

 

In January 1838, the year of our letter, Fry sailed to France where she led a delegation of Quakers to visit prisons, asylums and hospitals, in the hope of establishing similar relief organizations. She wrote of her trip to her children, “We had full occupation in visiting prisons and other institutions, and saw many influential persons. This opened a door in various ways, for close communication with a deeply interesting variety of both philanthropic and religious people, and has thus introduced us into a more intimate acquaintance with the state of general society,” (Elizabeth Fry: A Quaker Life: Selected Letters and Writings, ed. Skidmore). She also ardently promoted the Bible and, in our letter, quotes from Revelation 14:13.

 

Delessert was the longtime president of the Paris Chamber of Commerce and a member of the Delessert banking family, Calvinists from Geneva. His brother Benjamin Delessert (1773-1847) was a businessman who made several fortunes in cotton manufacturing and sugar refining, as well as a noted naturalist, politician, and a philanthropist. As a member of the Chamber of Deputies, he advocated for numerous humanitarian reforms, including abolishing capital punishment and improving prisons. Another brother Gabriel Delessert (1786-1858) was Paris’ prefect of police between 1836 and 1848. Our letter begins by sending condolences for the passing of Marguerite Madeleine Delessert Gauthier (1767-April 30, 1838) who, because of Francois-Marie’s marriage to his niece Julie Elisabeth Sophie Gauthier, was simultaneously his sister and mother-in-law.

 

Paris’ Bicêtre Hospital was opened as an orphanage and, during its history served as a prison and an asylum, housing the likes of the Marquis de Sade.

 

Written on a folded sheet and fine. Letters by Fry about religion and prison reform are uncommon and desirable.

 

 

Item #19940


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