Lives of Girls Who Became Famous
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
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