Anna Laetitia Barbauld was born in Leicestershire, the daughter of the Revd John Aikin (1713-80) and the former Jane Jennings, daughter of the Revd John Jennings of Kibworth, both devout Presbyterians. She received an excellent education in her home, an education that continued when her father took a position as a tutor at the Warrington Academy in 1758. It was there she met Joseph Priestley and William Enfield, who remained close friends thereafter. She shared an interest in poetry with her younger brother, John Aikin (1747-1822), and in 1773, prior to her marriage to Rochemont Barbauld (1749-1808) (26 May 1774) published her first volume of poetry, Poems, a highly acclaimed volume that reached five editions within a few years and another one in 1792. In 1773 she also published Miscellaneous Pieces in Prose jointly with her brother John.

After her marriage, the Barbaulds settled at Palgrave, Suffolk, where they established a boarding school for boys. Among their pupils were William Taylor (1765-1836), the translator of many literary works from German to English. During her time there (1774-85), Barbauld published some of her most popular works, including Lessons for Children (4 vols, 1778-79), and Hymns in Prose for Children (1781), establishing her as a leader in early childhood education into the 19th century. Later she contributed some 14 pieces to John Aikin’s publication, Evenings at Home (1792-96), also aimed at young readers.

After a time traveling mostly in France, the Barbaulds settled in Hampstead, on the edge of London, in 1787, opening another school there and attending the Unitarian chapel at Newington Green, not far from where they removed in 1802 to Church Street, Stoke Newington. Barbauld published some political pieces at this time, one being a response to criticism of Dissenters (An Address to the Opposers of the Repeal of the Corporation and Test Acts [1790]), a verse satire (An Epistle to William Wilberforce, esq. … on the Rejection of the Bill for Abolishing the Slave Trade [1791]), and a tract (Sins of Government, Sins of the Nation [1793]). She also countered Gilbert Wakefield’s ideas about public worship in Remarks on Mr. Gilbert Wakefield’s Enquiry into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or social Worship (1792). After the turn of the new century, she began contributing to periodicals, such as the Annual Review (1803-09) for which her nephew, Arthur Aikin (1773-1854) was the editor. She also edited the correspondence of the bookseller/novelist Samuel Richardson (6 vols, 1804) and wrote prefaces for the 50-volume collection, The British Novelists (1810). In 1809 she began writing for the Monthly Review, which she continued through 1815, and in 1811 published another work for young ladies, The Female Speaker. In 1812 her important poem, 1811, appeared, in which she criticized England’s continued involvement in the wars on the Continent led by Napoleon, a criticism not welcomed at that time by the Tory press.

During her retirement in Stoke Newington, Barbauld moved in a circle that included Joseph Johnson, Joanna Baillie, George Dyer, Maria Edgeworth, William Godwin, and Henry Crabb Robinson, to name a few. Rochemont Barbauld suffered from depression and he committed suicide in 1808. She declined further after the death of her brother John in 1822 and died at Stoke Newington on 9 March 1825, being buried at St Mary’s parish church in Islington. Lucy Aikin (1781-1864) edited her Works (1825), which included a little over 100 poems by Barbauld, and a posthumous work, A Legacy for Young Ladies (1826).