Image of Annie Besant


Lifetime: 1847 - 1933 Passed: ≈ 90 years ago


British Socialist, Theosophist, Women's Rights Activist


United Kingdom

Annie Besant

Annie Besant was a British socialist, theosophist, women's rights activist, writer, orator, educationist, and philanthropist. Regarded as a champion of human freedom, she was an ardent supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule. She was a prolific author with over three hundred books and pamphlets to her credit. As an educationist, her contributions included being one of the founders of the Banaras Hindu University.

In 1867, Annie, at age 20, married Frank Besant, a clergyman, and they had two children. However, Annie's increasingly unconventional religious views led to their legal separation in 1873. She then became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society (NSS), as well as a writer, and a close friend of Charles Bradlaugh. In 1877 they were prosecuted for publishing a book by birth control campaigner Charles Knowlton. The scandal made them famous, and Bradlaugh was subsequently elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Northampton in 1880.

Thereafter, she became involved with union actions, including the Bloody Sunday demonstration and the London matchgirls strike of 1888. She was a leading speaker for both the Fabian Society and the Marxist Social Democratic Federation (SDF). She was also elected to the London School Board for Tower Hamlets, topping the poll, even though few women were qualified to vote at that time.

In 1890 Besant met Helena Blavatsky, and over the next few years her interest in theosophy grew, whilst her interest in secular matters waned. She became a member of the Theosophical Society and a prominent lecturer on the subject. As part of her theosophy-related work, she travelled to India. In 1898 she helped establish the Central Hindu School, and in 1922 she helped establish the Hyderabad (Sind) National Collegiate Board in Mumbai, India. In 1902, she established the first overseas Lodge of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain. Over the next few years she established lodges in many parts of the British Empire. In 1907 she became president of the Theosophical Society, whose international headquarters were, by then, located in Adyar, Madras, (Chennai).

She also became involved in politics in India, joining the Indian National Congress. When World War I broke out in 1914, she helped launch the Home Rule League to campaign for democracy in India, and dominion status within the British Empire. This led to her election as president of the Indian National Congress, in late 1917. In the late 1920s, Besant travelled to the United States with her protégé and adopted son Jiddu Krishnamurti, who she claimed was the new Messiah and incarnation of Buddha. Krishnamurti rejected these claims in 1929. After the war, she continued to campaign for Indian independence and for the causes of theosophy, until her death in 1933.

Books by Annie Besant

Annie Besant: An Autobiography Cover image

Annie Besant: An Autobiography

Non-Fiction Biography
Autobiography Atheism Agnosticism

In her autobiography, Annie Besant poignantly writes of her search for the truth of what she believed in, leaving Christianity behind to embrace Atheism, and ultimately finding her peace in Theosophy, which she became interested in after meeting Hele...

Marriage, As It Was, As It Is, And As It Should Be  Cover image

Marriage, As It Was, As It Is, And As It Should Be

Reference work
Family Marriage Rights Life Church Laws Relationships Divorce

Annie Besant - a well-known British women's rights activist - lays down British marriage laws as they were at her time. She opposes the view of married women as mere property of their husbands, with virtually no rights of their own, and makes suggest...

My Path to Atheism  Cover image

My Path to Atheism

Evolution Revolution Education Victorian Society Atheism Agnosticism

My Path to Atheism is a remarkable document in many ways, not least that it was written by a woman in Victorian England, not the most open free-thinking of societies, especially for women at that time. It needed a remarkable woman to write such a rev...

An Introduction to Yoga Cover image

An Introduction to Yoga

History Discipline Nature Health Ancient Philosophical Spirituality Experiences Meditation

It provides an accessible introduction to the philosophy and practice of yoga, with a focus on the teachings of the Indian sage, Patanjali. Besant explains the eight limbs of yoga, which include ethical principles, physical postures, breath control,...

Ancient Ideals in Modern Life: Four Lectures Cover image

Ancient Ideals in Modern Life: Four Lectures

Truth Ancient Theology Life Modern Lectures Pursuit Inspirational

The lectures in this book explore the relevance of ancient ideals and teachings in the modern world, and how they can provide guidance and inspiration to individuals seeking a meaningful life. Besant delves into various topics such as the importance...