George William Foote was born in Plymouth, England on 11 January 1850. In his youth he became a freethinker through reading and independent thought. When he came to London in 1868 he joined the freethought organisations that were flourishing at the time. Foote was soon lecturing at freethought meetings. Charles Bradlaugh, then the leader of the secularist movement, soon recognised Foote's abilities and allowed him to play an increasingly important role in the British freethought movement. Foote contributed many articles to Bradlaugh's National Reformer and in 1876 founded his own magazine, The Secularist. This was followed by his major publishing success, The Freethinker, which began in 1881 and is still in existence today.
In 1882 Foote was charged with blasphemy for having published a number of biblical cartoons in The Freethinker. These had been modelled after a series of French cartoons that had appeared earlier. After a series of trials Foote was found guilty in 1883 and sentenced to twelve months' imprisonment by Judge Ford North, a Roman Catholic. ("Thank you, my lord, the sentence is worthy of your creed," Foote responded.) The Freethinker carried the banner headline "Prosecuted for Blasphemy" during this period, probably increasing itssales.
When Foote was released from prison, he was a hero in freethought circles. He continued writing, lecturing, and editing magazines until Charles Bradlaugh died in 1891. At that time Foote was elected to lead the National Secular Society, founded by Bradlaugh. Foote continued in this role until his death on 17 October 1915.