History of the Elizabeth Fry Society
Prince George and District Elizabeth Fry Society
The Prince George Branch of the Elizabeth Fry Society of British Columbia was established in 1979 and is registered federally as a charitable organization. It became a member of the Canadian Association of the Elizabeth Fry Societies in 1985. In February of 1990, the Prince George branch became independent of the Vancouver society. The Society is a United Way member agency.
The board of directors is responsible for upholding the constitution and by-laws of the organization and for deciding the aims and objectives of the Society. The Board has the ultimate responsibility of ensuring that the Society undertakes activities consistent with its stated purpose in an effective and financially responsible manner. Although the Board does not have direct responsibility for the operations or programming of the Society, it approves or rejects all major recommendations of the staff.
The executive director is appointed by the Board and administers the daily operation of the Society, carried out by the professional staff. The executive director, in turn is responsible for hiring staff who provides the program services. Presently we have approximately 30 full-time/part-time staff and 10 casual staff members in Prince George.
In July of 2002, the Ministry of Community, Aboriginal and Women’s Services called for a Request for Proposal for counselling/support services and a transition house for women and children at risk in Burns Lake. On October 1st and November 15th, 2002 respectively, our Society was pleased to open an office and transition house in Burns Lake. Approximately 10 full-time/part-time staff and four casual staff provide services to Burns Lake and area.
In January 2004 we were the successful proponent to offer family and sexual violence victim support services in Quesnel, through funding provided by the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General. One full-time staff provides family and sexual violence victim support services.
Currently the Society has approximately eight volunteers, which includes six members of the board of directors. The Society values the work of its volunteers, who are honorary members of the Society.
Historical Background of Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845)
Elizabeth Fry was born “Elizabeth Gurney” at Norwich England on May 21,1780 into a wealthy family. She gave up luxury to become a plain Quaker woman at age 17 and married Joseph Fry on August 18, 1800. Their first child was born in 1801 and over the next twenty years Elizabeth gave birth to eleven more children.
In 1813 Elizabeth Fry became aware of the deplorable conditions in London’s New Gate Prison, Four hundred women were imprisoned there, along with over fifty of their children. There were no beds, no toilets, no heat, no ventilation and no light. However it was not until Christmas of 1816 that she was able to begin her lifelong reform work.
Appalled by the conditions, Elizabeth Fry did more than any other person of her time to bring about prison reform. She convinced the prison officials and lawmakers to allow her to work with the women in a more humane fashion. At the time Elizabeth Fry was working for prison reform, the laws were extremely harsh and punitive. Men, women and children could be hanged for petty theft. Mutilation was an acceptable form of punishment, written into the criminal code.
One of her first priorities was to ensure that the women and children lived in clean, pleasant surroundings. She insisted that all the women and children attend school and learn a trade. She soon had the women making quilts and selling them to the towns people.
Elizabeth Fry was often consulted when new prisons were established, and founded societies to assist women after they were discharged from prison. In addition to her prison work. Elizabeth set up societies and committees to work with the poor and to provide assistance to homeless women and children. Before her death on October 12, 1845, Elizabeth Fry had led reforms in many areas and her ideas had spread throughout England, France, Holland and Denmark and eventually to Canada in 1939.
Elizabeth Fry Societies in Canada
The founding of the Elizabeth Fry Society in Canada was based on the concern for women who were incarcerated in what was then called Oakalla Prison Farm. The first society was established in Vancouver in 1939. It was the founding members’ belief that through community involvement and regular visits to the prison, the feeling of isolation and loneliness on the part of the incarcerated women, would be lessened.
From the base of providing a community presence in the prison, the services provided by the Society gradually expanded; one of these expansions was a branch in Prince George. Today there are 22 member societies across Canada.