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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Elizabeth Fry

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At this time Mrs. Fry and her brother Joseph visited Scotland and the north of England to ascertain the condition of the prisons. They found much that was inhuman; insane persons in prison, eighteen months in dungeons! Debtors confined night and day in dark, filthy cells, and never leaving them; men chained to the walls of their cells, or to rings in the floor, or with their limbs stretched apart till they fainted in agony; women with chains on hands, and feet, and body, while they slept on bundles of straw. On their return a book was published, which did much to arouse England.

Mrs. Fry was not yet forty, but her work was known round the world. The authorities of Russia, at the desire of the Empress, wrote Mrs. Fry as to the best plans for the St. Petersburg lunatic asylum and treatment of the inmates, and her suggestions were carried out to the letter.

Letters came from Amsterdam, Denmark, Paris, and elsewhere, asking counsel. The correspondence became so great that two of her daughters were obliged to attend to it.

Again she travelled all over England, forming "Ladies' Prison Associations," which should not only look after the inmates of prisons, but aid them to obtain work when they were discharged, or "so provide for them that stealing should not seem a necessity."

About this time, 1828, one of the houses in which her husband was a partner failed, "which involved Elizabeth Fry and her family in a train of sorrows and perplexities which tinged the remaining years of her life."

They sold the house at Plashet, and moved again to Mildred Court, now the home of one of their sons. Her wealthy brothers and her children soon re-established the parents in comfort.

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She now became deeply interested in the five hundred Coast-Guard stations in the United Kingdom, where the men and their families led a lonely life. Partly by private contributions and partly through the aid of government, she obtained enough money to buy more than twenty-five thousand volumes for libraries at these stations. The letters of gratitude were a sufficient reward for the hard work. She also obtained small libraries for all the packets that sailed from Falmouth.

In 1837, with some friends, she visited Paris, making a detailed examination of its prisons. Guizot entertained her, the Duchess de Broglie, M. de Pressense, and others paid her much attention. The King and Queen sent for her, and had an earnest talk. At Nismes, where there were twelve hundred prisoners, she visited the cells, and when five armed soldiers wished to protect her and her friends, she requested that they be allowed to go without guard. In one dungeon she found two men, chained hand and foot. She told them she would plead for their liberation if they would promise good behavior. They promised, and kept it, praying every night for their benefactor thereafter. When she held a meeting in the prison, hundreds shed tears, and the good effects of her work were visible long after.

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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