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  Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Elizabeth Fry

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When a woman of beauty, great wealth, and the highest social position, devotes her life to the lifting of the lowly and the criminal, and preaches the Gospel from the north of Scotland to the south of France, it is not strange that the world admires, and that books are written in praise of her. Unselfishness makes a rare and radiant life, and this was the crowning beauty of the life of Elizabeth Fry.

Born in Norwich, England, May 21, 1780, Elizabeth was the third daughter of Mr. John Gurney, a wealthy London merchant. Mrs. Gurney, the mother, a descendant of the Barclays of Ury, was a woman of much personal beauty, singularly intellectual for those times, making her home a place where literary and scientific people loved to gather.

Elizabeth wellnigh idolized her mother, and used often to cry after going to bed, lest death should take away the precious parent. In the daytime, when the mother, not very robust, would sometimes lie down to rest, the child would creep to the bedside and watch tenderly and anxiously, to see if she were breathing. Well might Mrs. Gurney say,

    "My dove-like Betsy scarcely ever offends, and is, in every
    sense of the word, truly engaging."

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Mrs. Fry wrote years afterward: "My mother was most dear to me, and the walks she took with me in the old-fashioned garden are as fresh with me as if only just passed, and her telling me about Adam and Eve being driven out of Paradise. I always considered it must be just like our garden.... I remember with pleasure my mother's beds of wild flowers, which, with delight, I used as a child to attend with her; it gave me that pleasure in observing their beauties and varieties that, though I never have had time to become a botanist, few can imagine, in my many journeys, how I have been pleased and refreshed by observing and enjoying the wild flowers on my way."

The home, Earlham Hall, was one of much beauty and elegance, a seat of the Bacon family. The large house stood in the centre of a well-wooded park, the river Wensum flowing through it. On the south front of the house was a large lawn, flanked by great trees, underneath which wild flowers grew in profusion. The views about the house were so artistic that artists often came there to sketch.

In this restful and happy home, after a brief illness, Mrs. Gurney died in early womanhood, leaving eleven children, all young, the smallest but two years old. Elizabeth was twelve, old enough to feel the irreparable loss. To the day of her death the memory of this time was extremely sad.

She was a nervous and sensitive child, afraid of the dark, begging that a light be left in her room, and equally afraid to bathe in the sea. Her feelings were regarded as the whims of a child, and her nervous system was injured in consequence. She always felt the lack of wisdom in "hardening" children, and said, "I am now of opinion that my fear would have been much more subdued, and great suffering spared, by its having been still more yielded to: by having a light left in my room, not being long left alone, and never forced to bathe."

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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