The journal was established in Sheffield in 1860, as an initiative by the Sheffield Secularists, on a prospectus describing its policy as "Atheistic in theology, Republican in politics, and Malthusian in social economy". Charles Bradlaugh was co-editor and periodically edited the journal through to 1890. Leading booksellers refused to stock it.
In 1868 the Commissioners of the Inland Revenue acted against the National Reformer under the 1819 Blasphemous and Seditious Libels Act. Bradlaugh and John Stuart Mill campaigned to have the Act repealed and the case was allowed to fall. The following year, the 1819 Act was repealed.
Annie Besant became associated with the National Reformer in 1874 and co-edited until 1887. Bradlaugh and Besant were prosecuted in 1877 for publications advocating birth control. In 1893 the journal ceased publication.
- Litzenberger, Caroline; Lyon, Eileen Groth (2006). The Human Tradition in Modern Britain. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 130. ISBN 0742537358.
- John Simkin (September 1997). "National Reformer". Spartacus Educational. Retrieved 12 January 2016.
- Royle, Edward (1974). Victorian Infidels: The Origins of the British Secularist Movement, 1791-1866. Manchester University Press. pp. 219–220. ISBN 0719005574.
- Besant, Annie (2008). Autobiographical Sketches. Arc Manor. p. 116. ISBN 1604501812.
- Brake, Lauren; Demoor, Marysa (2009). Dictionary of Nineteenth-Century Journalism: In Great Britain and Ireland. Academia Press. p. 72. ISBN 9038213409.
- Thomas, Donald Serrell (1969). A Long Time Burning. Routledge. pp. 231–232.
- Besterman, Theodore (2003). Annie Besant: A Modern Prophet. Kessinger. pp. 121, 82. ISBN 0766131637.
- "Historic figures: Annie Besant (1847 - 1933)". BBC. Retrieved 22 September 2012.
- Vern L. Bullough (2001). Encyclopedia of Birth Control. ABC-CLIO. p. 34. ISBN 978-1-57607-181-6. Retrieved 28 August 2016.