Fellowship members included poets Edward Carpenter and John Davidson, sexologist Havelock Ellis and future Fabian secretary Edward Pease. They wanted to transform society by setting an example of clean simplified living for others to follow. But when some members also wanted to become politically involved to aid society's transformation, it was decided that a separate society, The Fabian Society, also be set up. All members were free to attend both societies. The Fellowship of the New Life disbanded sometime in the early 1890s but the Fabian Society grew to become the pre-eminent intellectual society in Great Britain in the Edwardian Era.
Immediately upon its inception it began attracting many intellectuals drawn to its socialist cause, including George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Annie Besant, Graham Wallas, Hubert Bland, Sidney Olivier and Emmeline Pankhurst. Even Bertrand Russell later became a member.
The group, which favoured gradual rather than revolutionary change, was named in honour of the Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus Cunctator, who advocated tactics involving harassment and attrition rather than head-on battles against the Carthaginian army under the renowned general Hannibal Barca.
Many Fabians participated in the formation of the Labour Party in 1900 and the group's constitution, written by Shaw, was borrowed heavily from the founding documents of the Labour Party.
In the period between the two World Wars, the "Second Generation" Fabians—including the great writers R.H. Tawney, G.D.H. Cole and Harold Laski—continued to be a major influence on social-democratic thought.
Through the course of the 20th century the group has always been influential in Labour Party circles, with members including Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Anthony Crosland, Richard Crossman, Tony Benn, Harold Wilson and more recently Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.