Elizabeth Fry was a social reformer who changed the face of prisons in Britain in terms of the way inmates were treated. What prompted her to agitate for these rights was the insight she gained after traveling and visiting a lot of prisons and noted how prisoners were mistreated. Another social reformer with similar ideas to those of Elizabeth is Dorothea Lynde Dix who is known for her role in championing for institutional reforms in the United States.
To Dix just like Elizabeth, the move to advocate for reforms was after the experience she gained after touring Europe and North Europe and found that the mentally ill in prisons were kept in similar conditions with other prisoners. This paper is specifically going to focus on the lives of both reformers and illuminate light on the role or the part they both played in shaping criminal justice in the United States and Britain.
According to Williams (78), Elizabeth Fry was an English social reformer who spearheaded reforms in the prisons in Britain and was born in Gurney Court in a family of Quakers. She is the one who initiated and pushed for reforms in prisons so that prisoners would be treated in a more humane manner than it was the case. This was a move that was strongly supported by the monarchs that followed later. It was the influence of William Savery, a preacher that led her to develop unusual interest and sympathy towards the poor, the prisoners and the sick.
To see this happen, Fry visited the sick around her and even started her own Sunday school where she would teach the unfortunate children how to read. It was while she was while teaching those children that she met her fiance Joseph Fry, a successful man in a Quaker family and on august 19th, 1800 they got married. Again due to the family influence, Fry came to widely being recognized as a preacher in 1811 (Rose 45). This career made her very popular in her region something that was not common to women who were not expected to take a role outside their homes.
Some people criticized her for the role she played in the society claiming that it was odd for her to do so. They alleged that she was doing that at the expense of her family but others like Queen Victoria, they were not to sit aside and see her detractors tarnish her name. Instead, Victoria would grant her a chance to speak to her audience in a number of occasions not mentioning the financial boost she received from her for the cause (Williams 81).
Unfortunately for Fry, in 1828 after her husband died, she faced a lot of financial difficulties that saw her cease from being one of the Quaker’s family but she was lucky enough that her husband’s brother, Joseph Gurney who came to her rescue and helped her clear her outstanding debts and provided her with money to enable her continue with her work. Being a Quaker, she was as much concerned with the welfare of prisoners as it was the case with other Quakers.
The reason for Quakers to be concerned with prison reforms was the fact that they themselves were specifically arrested and imprisoned for their faith thus they knew too well how it was to be in prison where there were subjected to dreadful conditions. According to Quakers, there is an aspect of Godliness in prisoners that must be respected and thus they believe that the aim of imprisoning should not be to punish but to reform them (Rose 49).
What actually motivated Elizabeth Fry to start fighting for prison reforms was the information she received from her family friend, Stephen Grellet who had gotten a chance to visit the Newgate prison and witnessed something that really shocked him and as if this was not enough, he found the situation in the women cells was even worse. This news was too much for Fry to bear and for this reason she went there to see for herself and found that indeed it was the case. Three hundred women with children some convicted and others untried were overcrowded in two cells and wards.
Women slept on the floor naked and without beddings and would cook for themselves in the same cells they slept. From there on, Elizabeth would visit Newgate prison frequently providing these women with basic necessities such as clothes. To ensure that imprisoned women led a better life, Fry also established a chapel and a school within the prison premises although her project was faced with financial difficulties that almost saw it come to a grinding halt (Quaker Home service). In 1816, she was at it again and this time she managed to establish a prison school for the children of the imprisoned women.
The imprisoned women were also not left behind in that they were taught how to read bible and to sew their clothes. In the following year, she championed for the formation of the Newgate’s Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners something that led to the birth of the British Ladies society that was aimed at promoting reforms in the women prisons. Her work received a major boost when his brother-in-law, Thomas Fowell Buxton assisted her with her work. In 1818, Fry got a golden opportunity to address the House of Commons thereby becoming the first woman to give evidence on the condition in prisons.
Most of her recommendations were rejected by the Home Secretary but after Sir Robert Peel was elected in that post some of her recommendations received a positive audience leading to a series of reforms in the prisons under the 1823’s Gaol Act (Quaker Home service). Just like Elizabeth Fry, Dorothea Lynde Dix was a champion of institutional reforms who instituted many changes in the American prisons. She was a social reformer, a crusader and an educator. Her reforms were specifically directed to the mental asylums in European and in American prisons.
Dix was born in 4th April in Hampden, Maine. Her later life was greatly influenced by her father who was a preacher. As time went by, her father started drinking heavily and there were a lot of family wrangles. As if this was not enough, her mother developed an incurable mental illness and later died thereby Dix technically becoming the mother of her two brothers. She went to stay with her wealthy grandmother something that Dix was not used to. Her grandmother scolded her for behaving like a poor girl and thus wanted her to live like other wealthy girls but Dix was reluctant.
There were times when Dix would be punished by her grandmother for giving out food to some beggars in the street. According to (Crystal Reference), after staying with her grandmother for sometime, her aunt requested her grandmother to stay with Dix for sometime and it is during this time that her passion for teaching developed. At this time, girls were not allowed to attend public school but an arrangement was made and she was helped to establish a school where she would teach, a career she held onto for the next twenty four years.
After she ceased to be a teacher, she became a nurse though not trained to be one but the fact was that anybody educated by then could become a nurse as there was no formal nursing. As a nurse, she came to establish herself properly and even pioneered for the pursuance of core values in nursing that formed the basis of the modern nursing. As a nurse in 1841, Dix got a chance to visit the Cambridge House of Correction for Sunday school lessons to the women inmates.
What she witnessed there was very traumatizing in that the mentally ill women would be chained and kept in dark rooms together with other prisoners. The rooms they used for sleeping were also used as their toilets and on top of this; they would be physically and sexually abused. It was from this time that she decided to challenge the Massachusetts’ government to address the situation by making various proposals especially the one entitled the ‘Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline in the United States all geared toward the improvement of conditions of the mentally ill in the parliament.
She won some court cases she had filled and lost in some but all in all, she managed to institute some prison reforms for example in 1843 she requested the Legislature to make reforms in the prisons and particularly to address the situation on the mentally sick (Williams 89). In her work the ‘Remarks on Prisons and Prison Discipline in the United States’ (Tiffany), Dix clearly indicated what she wanted the government to do in improving the lives of the inmates for example, separating and incarcerating prisoners in separate cells and to give inmates an opportunity to learn.
It is through her tireless efforts that thirty two hospitals were established in different states such as Kentucky, Missouri, Louisiana, Indians, Tennessee and Maryland. During the period between 1843 and 1880, Dix specifically focused on improving the living conditions of the mentally ill in prisons and the way they were treated. Where there was no need of establishing new hospitals, the existing ones were re-organized, re-stuffed and restructured in such a manner that they would accommodate the needs of the mentally sick in the region. Her efforts also led to the establishment of some special institution for the insane.
She also requested the government to set aside some 5 million acres of land for the same cause (Reddi). After the civil war broke in 1861, Dix volunteered to offer her nursing services to the army and though not a trained nurse, her exceptional and outstanding skilled led her to be recognized by the War Secretary, Simon Cameron thereby becoming the superintendent of Union Army. She used this opportunity to convince those that were skeptical of her that women too could work perfectly well like men (Hatton 115). She also refused to be commanded by the fellow military men something that earned her the name, ‘Dragon Dix’.
After the civil war, Dix dedicated her rest of her life in the betterment of the lives of the mentally ill in prisons. She then died in 1887 and was buried at Cambridge, Massachusetts in Mount Auburn Cemetery (Reddi). Indeed, the two women Elizabeth Fry and Dorothea Lynde Dix are legends championed for institutional reforms and specifically in prisons. Fry having traveled widely in Britain and seen for herself the condition in which prisoners lived and how they were treated, she dedicated her life in improving the lives of women inmates who were the most neglected and suppressed.
It is the same case that happened to Dorothea Lynde Dix who after visiting prisons to teach Sunday school. She was surprised to see how the mentally ill lived in appalling conditions and became touched. It is this incident that prompted her to champion for institutional reforms in prisons for the mentally challenged. Works cited: Crystal Reference. Dix, Dorothea. 2004. Accessed at: http://www. biography. com/search/article. jsp? aid=9275710&search= Hatton, Jean. Betsy, the dramatic biography of a prison reformer. Oxford UK, Monarch Books, 2005 Quaker Home service.
Elizabeth Fry (1780-1845). Available at http://www2. gol. com/users/quakers/fry. htm Rose, June. Elizabeth Fry, a biography. London and Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1980. Reddi, Vasantha. Dorothea Lyde Dix (1802-1887), 2008. Retrieved from http://www. nursingadvocacy. org/press/pioneers/dix. html Tiffany, F. (1891). Life of Dorothea Lynde Dix. Boston: Houghton Mufflin Williams, Virgil. L. Dictionary of American Penology. Greenwood Publishing Company. 1996.