William Edward Forster was born in Dorset. He was the son of William Forster and Anna Buxton. Educated at Grove House School in Tottenham, William showed an early interest in politics. William’s father was not keen for his son to pursue a career in public life, so he worked in the wool business.
In 1846 and 1847 he visited Connemara, Ireland with his father and acted as a distributor for the Friends’ Famine Relief Fund.
On marrying Jane Martha Arnold (a non-Friend) in 1850, William left the Society of Friends. He frequently appeared on platforms in Leeds and Bradford, discussing the interests of the working classes, parliamentary reform, or American slavery.
William joined parliament in 1861 and represented Bradford to the end of his life. Under Gladstone in 1868, William was given the task of establishing a national system of education. He introduced his Elementary Education Bill in 1870 which aimed to provide free elementary education for all children.
As a cabinet minister under Gladstone in 1880, William served as Chief Secretary for Ireland. He died in 1886 at the age of 68. He was buried at Burley-in-Wharfdale after a funeral at Westminster Abbey.