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.
Remembered as the founder of the British colony of Georgia in the US, James Oglethorpe was a renowned British soldier, MP, and social reformer. Educated at Oxford, he initially fought for the Austrian army against the Turks. As an MP, he brought in prison reforms. He was also the governor of Georgia.
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.
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.
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.
Granville Sharp was an activist who became one of the first English campaigners to support abolitionism in the UK. Sharp devised a plan to settle people in slavery and black people in Sierra Leone. He also established the St George's Bay Company and is thus considered a founding father of Sierra Leone. Sharp also worked towards correcting other social injustices.
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.
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.”
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.
Sociologist Beatrice Webb is best remembered for coining the term collective bargaining. Along with her husband, Sidney Webb, whom she met at the Fabian Society, and others, Beatrice co-founded the London School of Economics. In spite of her lack of formal education, she was a prominent educator and an avid diarist.
British politician and Labour Party member Aungier Pakenham was part of an aristocratic family and was also known as the 7th earl of Longford. His brought in prison reforms such as the modern parole system. Though he was instrumental in decriminalising homosexuality, his Christian morals made him oppose homosexual acts.
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.
British sociologist Michael Young, also known as Lord Young, or Baron Young of Dartington, not only helped shape the manifesto of the Labour Party but also coined the term meritocracy. A qualified barrister, he was also instrumental in forming the Consumers’ Association and a prototype of the modern Open University system.
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.
Protestant reformer Gerrard Winstanley is best known for leading the Diggers, a group of English agrarian communists. Initially a cloth merchant, he was later drawn to communism, believing that land should be available to the poor, and penned The Law of Freedom in a Platform. He also advocated for universal religious tolerance.
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.
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.
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.
Part of the 18th-century London intellectual circle, socialite Elizabeth Montagu was a pioneering member of the Bluestockings, a group of women who engaged in evening conversations as a substitute to card-playing. The wife of affluent landowner Edward Montagu, she inherited his riches and later built the Montagu House.
Educated at her Unitarian minister father’s school, Mary Carpenter grew up to form her own free schools for the poor, known as the ragged schools. Her work later took her to India and North America. She also established the National Indian Association to ease communication between Indian and British reformers.
In spite of being blinded in an accident at age 19, John Fielding managed to become a magistrate. The half-brother of author Henry Fielding, he was nicknamed Blind Beak and was able to recognize criminals by their voices. He established the Bow Street Runners and revolutionized the juvenile justice system.
British politician and philanthropist Fowell Buxton was a prominent figure in the campaign for the abolition of slavery and was thus instrumental in the passage of the 1833 Abolition Act. Though the British government sponsored an anti-slave-trade expedition to Africa, inspired by his works, it failed to materialize due to multiple deaths.
Nicknamed the Factory King, Richard Oastler was a prominent English social reformer who is known for his relentless campaign for shortening work hours, eventually leading to the 1847 Ten Hours Act. While in prison for opposing the Poor Law Amendment Act, he penned Fleet Papers, a collection of his social theories.
Initially a leather breeches manufacturer, social reformer Francis Place participated in various working-class movements, before launching his tailoring shop. His socialist streak pushed him into politics, and he successfully campaigned against the Combination Acts that prohibited trade unions. He also became a Malthusian at one point.
The son of a weaver, Samuel Bamford quit school and worked as a weaver and a warehouseman. He later penned many poems, expressing his support for the working class. Charged with inciting violence at the Peterloo massacre, he was also jailed for a while. He later became a journalist in London.
Known as the Father of Reform, John Cartwright made significant parliamentary reforms, which later became part of the People’s Charter. An English naval officer, he had also been part of the Seven Years’ War. He also worked for universal suffrage and, in his later life, invested in crop trials and agricultural improvement.
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.
American reformer and trade unionist George Henry Evans is best remembered for his involvement in the 1829 Working Men's movement. He was also instrumental in the passage of the 1862 Homestead Act, was an abolitionist, and was a champion for women’s rights, too. He also owned the newspaper Working Man’s Advocate.
Apart from being the canon of Westminster Abbey, nineteenth-century Anglican priest Samuel Barnett had built many cultural centers and establishments, such as the Toynbee Hall, in London’s East End. A prominent social reformer, he penned works such as Practicable Socialism and worked on philanthropic projects with his wife, Henrietta Octavia Rowland.