Born in 1851 into a successful family, she became an ardent social reformer from her early years, requesting the Bishop of London to take over St Jude's in the slum of Whitechapel with her husband Canon Samuel Barnett. They set up Toynbee Hall in 1884, a charitable "university settlement" whose model has been copied all over the world since.
In 1907 she founded the Hampstead Garden Suburb. Having been affected by the poverty she saw first hand in East London, she wanted to create an area in North London away from the slums with affordable housing and green spaces. She fought against the prejudice shown against her gender and founded the Suburb which stands internationally renowned as a model Garden Suburb.