Quakers in the World

Quakers in the World

Margery Fry

1874 - 1958

Margery Fry was a British prison reformer as well as one of the first women to become a magistrate.

Margery Fry was born in London, the eighth child of Sir Edward Fry and his wife, Mariabella Hodgkin (1833 – 1930), who were Quakers. She was educated at home until, at the age of 17, she went to Miss Lawrence's school at Brighton (later named Roedean School). Her parents did not intend her to go to university but eventually allowed her to go to Somerville College at Oxford in 1894 to read Mathematics. (Her brother, the artist Roger Fry, apparently wanted her to do painting instead). After three years at university she returned to her parents' home, staying with them until 1899 when she became Librarian at Somerville (1899-1904). In 1904 she became Warden of the new women's residence at Birmingham University (initially at an annual salary of £60). In 1913 she became financially independent after the death of her uncle Joseph Storrs Fry and in 1914 left her position at Birmingham. From 1915 onwards she helped organise Quaker relief efforts in the Marne war area, and later elsewhere in France.

After the war she lived with her brother Roger and began the work on prison reform in which she was to be involved until the end of her life. In 1918 she became secretary of the Penal Reform League, which merged with the Howard Association in 1921 to form the Howard League for Penal Reform; she was secretary of the combined organisation until 1926. In 1919 she was appointed to the newly founded University Grants Committee on which she served until 1948. In 1921 she was appointed a magistrate, one of the first women magistrates in Britain. In 1922 she was appointed education advisor to Holloway Prison (a prison for women in London).

From 1926 to 1930 she was Principal of Somerville College. She was also a governor of the BBC from 1937 to 1939 and a participant in The Brains Trust series starting in 1942. The Graduate (Middle Common Room, or MCR) accommodation building on Somerville College campus is called Margery Fry House in her honour.

She is also known for her opposition to the death penalty and her support of compensation for victims of crimes. Victims have not (in popular discourse) ‘chosen’ to become victims of crime, and may be viewed as being harmed if they do not receive support. Indeed the support by government for Victim Support services can be viewed benevolently as one means by which victims may be viewed as having needs which should be met in order to restore their equilibrium. This is particularly so if we think of the development of criminal injuries compensation. Margery Fry, the founder of this scheme, saw such compensation as a way of addressing the disequilibrium (crime) created by capitalist society.

In the 1960s Margery Fry was one of several personalities who drew attention to the need to treat victims of crime better. As a magistrate in England and abroad, she lobbied for governments to establish ways to compensate victims of crime, arguing that they should at least get the same as victims of motor vehicle or work place accidents.

As a result, New Zealand started the first state compensation program for victims of violent crime in 1963. In 1964, England introduced its program and gradually States in the USA and Australia, Provinces in Canada and many other western countries introduced compensation programmes. These programmes were modest which was reasonable at the time. Policy makers did not know how many victims would come forward or what funds would need to be paid. For instance, victims were only eligible if they experienced violence and were deserving, while the amounts payable were limited. In the 1970s, social movements began to pay more attention to victims of crime.

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Further Reading and Credits

Howard League for Penal Reform

Image: Haslewood Shannon, Charles (1863-1937) Portrait of Margery Fry Reproduced with kind permission from the copyright holders University of Birmingham Research and Cultural Collections