Margery Fry

(1874-1958) – Social reformer, Principal of Somerville 1926-1931

Born in London into a Quaker family, and home schooled until she was 17, Margery Fry came to Somerville in 1892 to study Mathematics (although, in accordance with her family’s wishes, she never took any examinations).

Fry was librarian of Somerville from 1899 until 1904, when she left to become Warden of the women’s residence at Birmingham University. She worked for the Friends’ (Quakers’) War Victims Relief Committee in France 1914-18 and in 1918 she joined the Labour Party. She was elected Somerville’s fourth Principal in 1926, and was responsible for remodelling parts of the college, including the installation of the striking green and blue mosaic tiles on the ground floor of House. Fry referred to Somerville’s ‘students’ (where others still insisted on the more old-fashioned term ‘undergraduates’) and she herself was described by one Somervillian as ‘direct, vigorous and sincere’.

After her time at Somerville, Fry went on to lead the cause for prison reform. 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. In 1921 she was appointed a magistrate (one of the first women magistrates in Britain) and in 1922 she became education adviser to Holloway Prison. She was known for her opposition for the death penalty and her support for compensation for victims of crime.

Did you know? Margery Fry’s brother was Roger Eliot Fry, artist and founder of the Omega Workshops and one of the Bloomsbury Group. Margery Fry once suggested to a group of Somerville students that when at home they should decorate their parents’ fireplaces in gold paint.

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