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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous Sarah Knowles Bolton

Elizabeth Fry

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She who could dine with kings and queens, felt as regards servants, "that in the best sense we are all one, and though our paths here may be different, we have all souls equally valuable, and have all the same work to do; which, if properly considered, should lead us to great sympathy and love, and also to a constant care for their welfare, both here and hereafter."

When she was thirty-three, having moved to London for the winter, she began her remarkable work in Newgate prison. The condition of prisoners was pitiable in the extreme. She found three hundred women, with their numerous children, huddled together, with no classification between the most and least depraved, without employment, in rags and dirt, and sleeping on the floor with no bedding, the boards simply being raised for a sort of pillow. Liquors were purchased openly at a bar in the prison; and swearing, gambling, obscenity, and pulling each other's hair were common. The walls, both in the men's and women's departments, were hung with chains and fetters.

When Mrs. Fry and two or three friends first visited the prison, the superintendent advised that they lay aside their watches before entering, which they declined to do. Mrs. Fry did not fear, nor need she, with her benign presence.

On her second visit she asked to be left alone with the women, and read to them the tenth chapter of Matthew, making a few observations on Christ's having come to save sinners. Some of the women asked who Christ was. Who shall forgive us for such ignorance in our very midst?

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The children were almost naked, and ill from want of food, air, and exercise. Mrs. Fry told them that she would start a school for their children, which announcement was received with tears of joy. She asked that they select one from their own number for a governess. Mary Conner was chosen, a girl who had been put in prison for stealing a watch. So changed did the girl become under this new responsibility, that she was never known to infringe a rule of the prison. After fifteen months she was released, but died soon after of consumption.

When the school was opened for all under twenty-five, "the railing was crowded with half-naked women, struggling together for the front situations, with the most boisterous violence, and begging with the utmost vociferation."

Mrs. Fry saw at once the need of these women being occupied, but the idea that these people could be induced to work was laughed at, as visionary, by the officials. They said the work would be destroyed or stolen at once. But the good woman did not rest till an association of twelve persons was formed for the "Improvement of the Female Prisoners of Newgate"; "to provide for the clothing, the instruction, and the employment of the women; to introduce them to a knowledge of the Holy Scriptures; and to form in them, as much as possible, those habits of order, sobriety, and industry, which may render them docile and peaceable whilst in prison, and respectable when they leave it."

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Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
Sarah Knowles Bolton

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