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FRY, ELIZABETH - The Quaker Prison Reformer Writes: 'I know the Catholics do not like its being said they do not allow the Scriptures'
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FRY, ELIZABETH - The Quaker Prison Reformer Writes: 'I know the Catholics do not like its being said they do not allow the Scriptures'

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FRY, ELIZABETH. (1780-1845). Prominent English Quaker, philanthropist and prison reformer. ALS. (“Eliz. Fry”). 2¼pp. Small 8vo. Hotel de Castille, March 3, 1838. (To French banker, naturalist and philanthropist BENJAMIN DELESSERT (1773-1847).)]


I cannot satisfactorily leave Paris without thanking thee for thy interesting and beautiful pictures which will in a very pleasant way bring thee to the remembrance of my family as well as ourselves, not that such a mark was needed for this purpose. Since I had the pleasure of seeing thee I have had much conversation with the Abbé Moligny and he says that it’s clear no Priest ought to hinder the freest circulation of De Facie’s [?] New Testament in your Prisons or institutions or indeed anywhere. I therefore hope that if when any are given & they are taken away the Priest should be spoken to upon the subject for I know the Catholics do not like its being said they do not allow the Scriptures. I fully believe the Bible Society in England would supply some hundreds for your Hospitals &c. I remain with much regard & esteem thy obliged 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, 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. Several days after penning our letter, 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. Religiously, we find some, indeed we may say a great many, who appear much broken off from the bonds of Roman Catholic superstition, but with it, I fear, have been ready to give up religion itself, though feeling the need of it for themselves and others,” (Elizabeth Fry: A Quaker Life : Selected Letters and Writings, ed. Skidmore). She goes on to say that she has “most strongly encouraged all to promote a more free circulation of the Scriptures, particularly the New Testament, and a more diligent reading of the Bible in institutions and families… It has been striking to me in our dinner visits, some of them splendid occasions, how curiously a way has opened without the least formality, or even difficulty in conversation, to ‘speak the truth in love’, especially one day, as to how far balls and theatres were Christian and right; the way in which Roman Catholic priests appeared to hinder the spread of the Gospel - the importance of circulating good books (this has been a very common subject) and above all the New Testaments,” (ibid.).   


Delessert was a banker and entrepreneur who made several fortunes in cotton manufacturing and sugar refining. As a member of the Chamber of Deputies, he advocated for numerous humanitarian reforms, including abolishing capital punishment and improving prisons.


Abbé Moligny (?-?) was a priest who, in 1830, became the confessor to the Duc de Bordeaux, legitimist pretender to the French throne, known also as Henry V, the last legitimate descendant in the male line of Louis XV.


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



Item #19939


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