Famous 19th Century Social Reformers

Find out more about the greatest 19th Century Social Reformers, including Harriet Tubman, Jane Addams, William Lloyd Garrison, Dorothea Dix and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar.

This ranking is based on an algorithm that combines various factors, including the votes of our users and search trends on the internet.

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 1 
Harriet Tubman
(Activist and Abolitionist Known for Her Efforts in Rescuing Slaves and Abolition of Slavery)

Harriet Tubman
43
Birthdate: 1822
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Dorchester County, Maryland, United States
Died: March 10, 1913

Born to parents who were bonded slaves, Harriet Tubman life was a difficult one from the very beginning. Yet with her remarkable courage and determination, she not only escaped slavery herself, but also led other enslaved people to freedom. The prominent political activist and abolitionist was also the first woman to lead an armed expedition during the American Civil War.

 2 
Florence Nightingale
(Social Reformer & Founder of Modern Nursing and Known as 'The Lady with the Lamp')

Florence Nightingale
18
Birthdate: May 12, 1820
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: Florence, Italy
Died: August 13, 1910
The Lady with the Lamp Florence Nightingale is remembered for her relentless efforts in nursing soldiers during the Crimean War. She founded London’s St Thomas' Hospital to train nurses. She also pioneered the use of the polar area diagram and was the first female member of the Royal Statistical Society.

 3 
Frederick Douglass
(Abolitionist, Social Reformer)

Frederick Douglass
12
Birthdate: 1818 AD
Birthplace: Talbot County, Maryland, United States
Died: February 20, 1895

Social reformer and abolitionist, Frederick Douglass was a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. Born into slavery, he had a difficult early life. Eventually, he managed to escape and dedicated the rest of his life to promoting the cause of abolition. He was a great orator and writer.

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 4 
Ida B. Wells
(Women's Rights Activist and Civil Rights Leader)

Ida B. Wells
6
Birthdate: July 16, 1862
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Holly Springs, Mississippi, United States
Died: March 25, 1931
Civil rights and women's rights activist Ida B. Wells is remembered for speaking up against the lynching of Blacks in the U.S. She was born a slave and freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. She later co-founded the NAACP. She also co-owned and wrote for Memphis Free Speech and Headlight.

 5 
Savitribai Phule
(Social Reformer, Poet)

Savitribai Phule
29
Birthdate: January 3, 1831
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Naigaon, British India (now in Satara district, Maharashtra)
Died: March 10, 1887

Savitribai Phule was a revolutionary social reformer who dedicated her life to educate girls and bring about gender equality in the face of resistance from the conservative Indian society. Phule, who was illiterate till her marriage, went on to become a teacher, a feat considered first by an Indian woman. With her husband, she established schools for girls in Maharashtra.

 6 
Margaret Sanger
(Birth Control Activist Who Opened the First Birth Control Clinic in the United States)

Margaret Sanger
8
Birthdate: September 14, 1879
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Corning, New York, United States
Died: September 6, 1966

Margaret Sanger was an American writer and sex educator. She is credited with popularizing the term birth control. A birth control activist, Sanger established the first birth control clinic in America. She also set up organizations that later became the well-known non-profit organization Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She also played a key role in legalizing contraception in the US.

 7 
Annie Besant
(Social Reformer)

Annie Besant
8
Birthdate: April 16, 1847
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Clapham, England
Died: 1933 AD

Annie Besant was a British theosophist, socialist, writer, orator, educationist, women's rights activist, and philanthropist. Despite being British, Besant supported India's freedom movement and even joined the Indian National Congress. She is also credited with co-founding Banaras Hindu University. Besant also helped launch the Indian Home Rule movement to campaign for democracy in the country.

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 8 
Rudolf Steiner
(Philosopher)

Rudolf Steiner
8
Birthdate: February 27, 1861
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Donji Kraljevec, Croatia
Died: March 30, 1925

Austrian philosopher and architect and Rudolf Steiner gained fame as a literary critic and published works such as The Philosophy of Freedom. His interests included esotericism and clairvoyance. He termed his work spiritual science. He designed the Goetheanum and also laid down concepts such as Waldorf education and biodynamic agriculture.

Jane Addams
14
Birthdate: September 6, 1860
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Cedarville, Illinois, U.S.
Died: May 21, 1935

Jane Addams was an American social worker, reformer, settlement activist, public administrator, sociologist, and author. Addams was a prominent leader in the history of women's suffrage and social work in the USA. She is credited with co-founding one of America's most popular settlement houses, the Hull House in Chicago. Addams is also credited with co-founding the American Civil Liberties Union.

 10 
William Lloyd Garrison
(Journalist, Abolitionist)

William Lloyd Garrison
8
Birthdate: December 10, 1805
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Newburyport, Massachusetts, United States
Died: May 24, 1879

William Lloyd Garrison was an American journalist, abolitionist, social reformer, and suffragist. He is best remembered for founding The Liberator, an anti-slavery newspaper, which was published from 1831 to 1865. He also co-founded the American Anti-Slavery Society which helped fight slavery in the United States. In the 1870s, William Lloyd Garrison was an important figure in the women's suffrage movement.

 11 
Jyotiba Phule
(Social Reformer)

Jyotiba Phule
12
Birthdate: April 11, 1827
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Satara, Maharashtra, India
Died: November 28, 1890

Jyotiba Phule was an Indian thinker, social activist, writer, and anti-caste social reformer. During his lifetime, he worked towards eradicating the caste system and untouchability in India. He was also a pioneer of women education in India and began his first school for girls in Pune in 1848. B. R. Ambedkar had often cited Jyotiba Phule as an inspiration.

 12 
Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
(Educator & Social Reformer He is Considered the "Father of Bengali prose")

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar
20
Birthdate: September 26, 1820
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Birsingha, West Bengal, India
Died: July 29, 1891

Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar was an Indian social reformer and educator. He is best remembered for his efforts to modernize and simplify Bengali prose for which he is widely regarded as the father of Bengali prose. As a social reformer, Vidyasagar played a crucial role in enacting the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act, which legalized the remarriage of Hindu widows in India. 

 13 
Dorothea Dix
(Social Reformer)

Dorothea Dix
10
Birthdate: April 4, 1802
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Maine, US
Died: July 17, 1887

Dorothea Dix was an American advocate who fought for the welfare of the mentally ill. She helped create the first generation of mental asylums in the United States. Dix also played a key role during the Civil War, serving as a Superintendent of Army Nurses. In 1979, Dorothea Dix was made an inductee of the National Women's Hall of Fame.

 14 
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan
(Indian Islamic Reformer and Educationist Who Founded the ‘Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College’, the First Muslim University in Southern Asia)

Sir Syed Ahmad Khan
6
Birthdate: October 17, 1817
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Delhi, India
Died: March 27, 1898
Sir Syed Ahmad Khan was the founder of the Aligarh Muslim University. He is accredited as the father of Two-Nation Theory and is regarded as the originator of Muslim nationalism in India. A proponent of freedom of speech and democratic ideals, he propelled social and educational reforms.

 15 
Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi
(Islamic Scholar, Reformer)

Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi
7
Birthdate: June 14, 1856
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Bareilly
Died: October 28, 1921

Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, also known as Ala-Hazrat, was a renowned Islamic scholar and an Urdu poet. Born in Bareilly, British India, he belonged to a family of Rohilla Pushtuns who had migrated from Qandahar. He wrote about various subjects such as philosophy, science, and astronomy.

 16 
Josiah Henson
(Abolitionist)

Josiah Henson
3
Birthdate: June 15, 1789
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Charles County, Maryland, United States
Died: May 5, 1883

Josiah Henson was an American abolitionist, author, and minister. Henson escaped to Upper Canada after being born into slavery and founded a settlement for other fugitive slaves in Kent County. Josiah Henson's autobiography about his escape from slavery is said to have inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's title character in her novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.

 17 

Charles Freer Andrews
3
Birthdate: February 12, 1871
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: England, United Kingdom
Died: April 5, 1940

Charles Freer Andrews was a Christian missionary and Anglican priest. He was also an educator and social reformer. A close friend of Indian freedom fighters Rabindranath Tagore and Mahatma Gandhi, he supported the Indian struggle for independence. Gandhi fondly called him Deenabandhu, or "Friend of the Poor". Even today, Andrews is widely respected in India. 

 18 
Josephine Butler
(Social Worker)

Josephine Butler
3
Birthdate: April 13, 1828
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Northumberland
Died: December 30, 1906

Renowned Victorian-era feminist and social reformer Josephine Butler was a champion for women’s suffrage and also fought against human trafficking. It is believed, she devoted herself to charity after the death of her 6-year-old daughter. She also forced Cambridge to encourage women’s education, which culminated in the Newnham women’s college.

 19 
Mahadev Govind Ranade
(Judge, Social Reformer)

Mahadev Govind Ranade
3
Birthdate: January 18, 1842
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Niphad
Died: January 16, 1901

Mahadev Govind Ranade was an Indian social reformer, scholar, author, and judge. Ranade is credited with co-founding the Indian National Congress as well as founding several organizations like the Poona Sarvajanik Sabha, Widow Marriage Association, and Vaktruttvottejak Sabha. He also contributed as an editor of a nationalist publication named Induprakash.

 20 
Florence Kelley
(Social Reformer)

Florence Kelley
5
Birthdate: September 12, 1859
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: February 17, 1932

Florence Kelley was an American political and social reformer who pioneered the term wage abolitionism. Kelley's work for the minimum wage, children's rights, and eight-hour workdays are widely acclaimed today. After serving as the National Consumers League’s first general secretary, Florence Kelley helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.    

 21 

Bipin Chandra Pal
5
Birthdate: November 7, 1858
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Habiganj District, Bangladesh
Died: May 20, 1932

Bipin Chandra Pal was an Indian nationalist, social reformer, writer, orator, and freedom fighter. Along with Lala Lajpat Rai and Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bipin Chandra Pal was part of the famous Lal Bal Pal triumvirate. Pal played a key role in the establishment of the Swadeshi movement. He also worked for popular publications and promoted his brand of nationalism.

 22 

Samuel Smiles
3
Birthdate: December 23, 1812
Sun Sign: Capricorn
Birthplace: Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland
Died: April 16, 1904

Though a qualified doctor, Samuel Smiles later never practiced and switched to journalism instead, working for Leeds Times. His best-known work remains Self-Help, a motivational self-improvement guide for the youth, which denounced materialism and advocated thrift. His other significant work was the 5-volume Lives of the Engineers.

 23 
George Lansbury
(Social Reformer)

George Lansbury
5
Birthdate: February 21, 1859
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Halesworth, Suffolk, England
Died: May 7, 1940

British Labour Party leader George Lansbury began his career working for the railways at 14 and then became a timber merchant. He was also a major figure behind the formation of the pro-labor Daily Herald. His overtly pacifist beliefs, however, made him unpopular and caused him to resign from his party leadership.

 24 
Carl Schurz
(Politician)

Carl Schurz
3
Birthdate: March 2, 1829
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Erftstadt, Germany
Died: May 14, 1906

Carl Schurz was a German-born American statesman, reformer, and journalist. After immigrating to the USA during the German revolutions of 1848–49, Schurz became an important member of the Republican Party. He also helped found the Liberal Republican Party which was organized to oppose the reelection of Ulysses S. Grant.  

 25 
Edwin Chadwick
(Public servant)

Edwin Chadwick
5
Birthdate: January 24, 1800
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Longsight, Manchester, England
Died: July 6, 1890

Lawyer and social reformer Edwin Chadwick played a significant role in the passage of the 1848 Public Health Act. He also reformed the Poor Laws, bringing about major developments in urban sanitization. He was eventually knighted for his achievements. His writings include an iconic report on the “Labouring Population of Great Britain.”

 26 
Theodore Parker
(Transcendentalist)

Theodore Parker
5
Birthdate: August 24, 1810
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Lexington, Massachusetts, United States
Died: May 10, 1860

Theodore Parker was an American transcendentalist minister whose words and quotations would later help inspire popular speeches of the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln. A reformer and abolitionist, Parker played a key role in fighting against such laws as the Fugitive Slave Act.

 27 

Caroline Norton
3
Birthdate: March 22, 1808
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: London
Died: June 15, 1877

Being the granddaughter of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan, author Caroline Norton had her first experience at writing in her teens. Her beauty and charm, however, made her failed barrister husband jealous. The rift in their marriage caused her to successfully campaign for married women’s right to property and their children’s custody.

 28 
Kang Youwei
(Philosopher)

Kang Youwei
3
Birthdate: March 19, 1858
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Nanhai District, Foshan, China
Died: March 31, 1927

Qing dynasty reformer Kang Youwei was associated with the Reform Movement of 1898. Though he initially admired Western civilization, opened schools, and even attempted to abolish foot-binding of women, he later became a staunch supporter of Confucianism and opposed blind westernization. He fled to Japan after the reform movement failed.

 29 
Dhondo Keshav Karve
(Social Reformer and Educator)

Dhondo Keshav Karve
11
Birthdate: April 18, 1858
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Ratnagiri
Died: November 9, 1962

Dhondo Keshav Karve was an Indian social reformer who worked for women's welfare in India. A pioneer in supporting widows' education, Karve also promoted widow remarriage. He also walked the talk by marrying a widow. Karve is credited with founding SNDT Women's University, India's first women's university. In 1958, he was honored with India’s highest civilian award, the Bharat Ratna.

 30 

Mary White Ovington
3
Birthdate: April 11, 1865
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Brooklyn, New York, United States
Died: July 15, 1951

Mary White Ovington was an American journalist and suffragist. She is best remembered as one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Throughout her life, Mary White Ovington remained active in the fight for women's suffrage in the United States of America. She also wrote several articles and books including an autobiography. 

Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury
3
Birthdate: April 28, 1801
Sun Sign: Taurus
Birthplace: London, England
Died: October 1, 1885
One of the most significant industrial reformers of Britain, Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury was instrumental in bringing about many reforms, such as the 1845 Lunacy Act, which treated the mentally ill with compassion. His Mines Act prohibited all women and all children below 10 from mining work.

 32 
Octavia Hill
(Social Reformer)

Octavia Hill
5
Birthdate: December 3, 1838
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Wisbech, England
Died: August 13, 1912

Social reformer Octavia Hill led the British open-space movement, which eventually led to the formation of the National Trust. Inspired by John Ruskin, she established her first housing project in a London slum. She later devoted her life to developing living conditions of the poor and utilizing open spaces.

 33 
Ricardo Flores Magón
(Political figure)

Ricardo Flores Magón
3
Birthdate: September 16, 1873
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Eloxochitlán de Flores Magón, Mexico
Died: November 21, 1922

One of the most well-known Mexican anarchists, Ricardo Flores Magón initially studied law but soon got involved in student politics and was imprisoned multiple times. He also edited the anarchist newspaper Regeneración. One of the initiators of the Mexican Revolution, he later fled to the US, where he formed the Mexican Liberal Party.

 34 
Charles Booth
(Social Reformer)

Charles Booth
3
Birthdate: March 30, 1840
Sun Sign: Aries
Birthplace: Liverpool, England
Died: November 23, 1916

Charles Booth was not just a shipowner but also a prominent social reformer, best known for his 17-volume Life and Labour of the People in London, which threw a light on the social conditions of the poor in London. He also developed statistical methods to ascertain the social issues of the working class.

 35 
Dayanand Saraswati
(Philosopher)

Dayanand Saraswati
8
Birthdate: February 12, 1824
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Tankara, India
Died: October 30, 1883

Dayananda Saraswati was an Indian social leader and philosopher. He is credited with founding an influential Hindu reform movement known as Arya Samaj. He is also credited with popularizing the term Swaraj which was used as a powerful tool by leaders like Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi during India’s freedom struggle. Saraswati influenced people like Bhagat Singh and Madam Cama.

 36 
Gerrit Smith
(Politician)

Gerrit Smith
3
Birthdate: March 6, 1797
Sun Sign: Pisces
Birthplace: Utica, New York, United States
Died: December 28, 1874

Gerrit Smith was an American social reformer, politician, abolitionist, and philanthropist. Although he was a prominent candidate for President of the USA in 1848, 1856, and 1860, Smith served only 18 months in the federal government. Throughout his life, he was a major financial contributor to the Republican Party and the Liberty Party.

 37 
Samuel Plimsoll
(Politician)

Samuel Plimsoll
3
Birthdate: February 10, 1824
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Bristol, England
Died: June 3, 1898

Apart from being a politician, Samuel Plimsoll was also a prominent social reformer, who is best known for introducing the Plimsoll line, a line on a ship’s side, which signifies the legal limit till which the ship can be loaded, thus ensuring that no money-hungry shipowner could risk his crew’s safety.

 38 
Daniel Carter Beard
(Illustrator)

Daniel Carter Beard
3
Birthdate: June 21, 1850
Sun Sign: Gemini
Birthplace: Cincinnati, Ohio, United States
Died: June 11, 1941

Daniel Carter Beard was an American author, illustrator, social reformer, and Georgist. He is credited with founding the Sons of Daniel Boone, which he later integrated with the Boy Scouts of America. He also served as the editor of Boys' Life magazine and helped his sister assemble the Camp Fire Girls.

 39 
Rowland Hill
(Teacher)

Rowland Hill
3
Birthdate: December 3, 1795
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Kidderminster, England
Died: August 27, 1879

Born to a schoolmaster, Rowland Hill followed in his father’s footsteps to become a teacher and explored subjects such as astronomy and math. He is, however, best remembered for his reform of the postal system, including increasing the speed of letter transfer and introducing the prototype of the postage stamp.  

 40 
Yosano Akiko
(Author)

Yosano Akiko
2
Birthdate: December 7, 1878
Sun Sign: Sagittarius
Birthplace: Sakai, Osaka, Japan
Died: May 29, 1942

Yosano Akiko was a Japanese author, social reformer, poet, pacifist, and feminist. One of the most controversial and popular woman poets of Japan, Yosano was an important exponent of a genre of classical Japanese poetry called Tanka. She also contributed immensely to several publications like Bluestocking.

 41 
Seebohm Rowntree
(Researcher)

Seebohm Rowntree
8
Birthdate: July 7, 1871
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: York, England
Died: October 7, 1954

Though he initially studied chemistry, Seebohm Rowntree soon joined his family cocoa business. He soon introduced employee-friendly policies, such as the 5-day work week and a pension plan, in the company. His pioneering study of working-class homes in York became an iconic sociological treatise on the poor.

Sidney Webb, 1st Baron Passfield
2
Birthdate: July 13, 1859
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: London, England
Died: October 13, 1947

Born to a lower-middle-class family, economist Sidney Webb, 1st Baron Passfield had quit school before 16 but later attended evening classes to clear both the civil service and bar exams. He and his wife, Beatrice Webb, were both part of the Fabian Society and co-founded the London School of Economics.

 43 
István Széchenyi
(Political reformer)

István Széchenyi
5
Birthdate: September 21, 1791
Sun Sign: Virgo
Birthplace: Vienna, Austria
Died: April 8, 1860

Remembered as "the Greatest Hungarian,” István Széchenyi was a reformer and author who had initially fought against Napoleon I. He had served as the minister of public works and transport and improved his country’s waterways and roadways. Charged with sedition against Austria’s reign over Hungary, he later committed suicide.

 44 

Thomas Hughes
8
Birthdate: October 20, 1822
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Uffington, Berkshire,England
Died: March 22, 1896

A qualified jurist, Thomas Hughes was also a renowned author, known for his iconic semi-autobiographical novel Tom Brown’s School Days. He also co-founded the Working Men’s College, as a result of his association with the Christian Socialist movement. He was also a Liberal Party MP, representing Lambeth and Frome.

 45 
William Thompson
(Philosopher)

William Thompson
2
Birthdate: June 30, 1775
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Cork, Ireland
Died: March 28, 1833

 46 
George Ripley
(Journalist)

George Ripley
2
Birthdate: October 3, 1802
Sun Sign: Libra
Birthplace: Greenfield, Massachusetts, United States
Died: July 4, 1880

George Ripley was an American journalist, Unitarian minister, and social reformer. He is best remembered for his association with Transcendentalism. Ripley is credited with founding a Utopian community named Brook Farm in Massachusetts. He later established himself as a literati, working for the New York Tribune and publishing the New American Cyclopaedia.

 47 
Narayana Guru
(Spiritual Leader, Social Reformer)

Narayana Guru
11
Birthdate: August 20, 1856
Sun Sign: Leo
Birthplace: Chempazhanthy, Thiruvananthapuram, India
Died: September 20, 1928

Born in Travancore in India, Narayana Guru was the son of a teacher and studied in a gurukula. He grew up to lead a social reform movement against the caste system that he saw in erstwhile Kerala. He believed in the motto One Caste, One Religion, One God for All.

 48 

Hannah Whitall Smith
2
Birthdate: February 7, 1832
Sun Sign: Aquarius
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: May 1, 1911

 49 
Toyohiko Kagawa
(Peace Activist)

Toyohiko Kagawa
2
Birthdate: July 10, 1888
Sun Sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Kobe, Hyogo, Japan
Died: April 23, 1960

A Japanese Christian social reformer, Toyohiko Kagawa was educated at the Princeton Theological Seminary in the US and later spearheaded the Friends of Jesus band in Japan, encouraging compassion for the poor and women’s suffrage. His written work is preserved in the 24-volume Kagawa Toyohiko Zenshu.

 50 
Grace Abbott
(Social Worker)

Grace Abbott
2
Birthdate: November 17, 1878
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Birthplace: Grand Island, Nebraska, United States
Died: June 19, 1939

Grace Abbott is best remembered for her efforts toward securing reformation of child labor laws and the betterment of the work conditions of immigrant laborers. After her graduation, she moved to Hull House, where she focused on social work. She later penned books such as The Immigrant and the Community.