Biography of Mary Elizabeth Frye

If Mary Frye’s life hadn’t lasted almost a hundred years, we probably wouldn’t have known she was a poet. She wrote her only famous poem, do not stand at my grave, when she was 28 and very soon it spread all around the world. Yet, Frye didn’t reveal she was the author of the poem until she was in her nineties. The simple twelve-line verse has no title, yet its sincere, consoling, and healing message goes straight to your heart.

Born:  November 13, 1905
Dayton, Ohio
Who is Mary Elizabeth Frye: American poet and florist

The end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century was a time of industrial revolution and rapid industrialization in Britain: manufactories were replaced by factories which forced capitalists to seek cheap labor. The front rows of these “recruits” were filled with women and children: it was the labor of those factory workers in England which Marx and Engels later used as the basis for their reflections.


Yet, not all bankers were nothing but pure “money bags”.

Elizabeth Gurney was born on May 21, 1780 in Norwich, Norfolk, in a family of prosperous Quakers: her father, John Gurney, was a banker and her mother belonged to a family who were the co-founders of the famous Barclays Bank. Alas, Catherine Gurney died when her daughter was only 12 years old, and she, as the eldest of all kids, had to take care of the rest of the family members.

Like any other Quaker, Elizabeth regularly attended church: the speech by the Quaker priest William Savery which she heard when she was 18 became the turning point of her life. Since that moment, she decided to devote her whole life to caring for those who were not lucky to be born in a rich family. At first, Elizabeth simply visited the patients living in the neighborhood but then she opened a night school where she taught children to read and write. At the age of 20 she met Joseph Fry who was also a Quaker and a banker. The young couple moved to London, where Elizabeth Fry joined the Religious Society of Friends and raised her 11 children – five sons and six daughters.

Biography Mary Elizabeth Frye

At that time, London was not a nice place for walking, as young Anglomans represent it now, and the landscapes described by Dickens and Greenwood were not taken from the authors’ imagination. One day, Elizabeth Fry visited the famous Newgate prison, crowded with women and children, who yet had to face trial. People huddled in pitiful cages – they washed their things and cooked their food right here, and they also had to sleep on a straw. These pictures shocked the young woman, but she could only help these people in 1816 by opening a school for children who went to prison with their mothers: they, in turn, were given the opportunity to make clothing and read the Bible.

A year later, she founded the Association for the Reformation of the Female Prisoners in Newgate. Later, this association was transformed into a nationwide organization – the first women’s charity association. Elizabeth not only made endless speeches about helping the prisoners, but she also invited noble people to prisons as if to say “Look, you or your children may be in these men’s shoes one day!” In addition, Mrs. Fry’s brother-in-law was elected to the House of Commons, and her humanistic speeches, alongside with evidence of inhuman conditions began to sound from the highest rostrum of the United Kingdom. And Fry herself got the nickname the “angel of prisons”.

Following the prisoners, Elizabeth started to take interest in the fate of the homeless. She founded a society of volunteers caring for the poor in Brighton: similar societies appeared in other cities of the country. The school for nurses she founded in 1840 later inspired famous Florence Nightingale: nurses from the Fry school worked on the fields of the Crimean War. And in 1842 the King of Prussia Friedrich-Wilhelm IV himself visited the school. Queen Victoria also repeatedly helped Fry’s societies and honored her with several audiences.

The philanthropist died on October 12, 1845: on this day, the local coast guard lowered its flag as a sign of mourning – only royal family members had been honored like this before!

In the same year, the City Hall of London made a unanimous decision to honor her memory by creating the Elizabeth Fry Society with its own night shelter, school for orphans and charitable institutions: similar institutions were opened in other cities of Britain and Canada.

Mary Elizabeth Frye Biography

Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies defends the rights of convicted women, and each May they celebrate the annual Elizabeth Fry Week. The museums of the “angel of prisons” opened in Norwich and London, and in 2003 her image was immortalized on a £ 5 note. Truly, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” It seems that it was precisely this simple truth that the Quaker’s daughter learned best.

Popular poems by Mary Elizabeth Frye

  1. Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Mary Elizabeth Frye death: September 15, 2004, Baltimore, Maryland