Annie Besant Biography

Founder of the Home Rule League and famous Theosophist, Annie Besant was born in London on October 1, 1847. Her father died early when she was just five years old. She traveled widely as a young woman.

In 1867, she married 26-year-old clergyman Frank Besant, but the marriage did not last long. She began to study part-time at the Birkbeck Literary and Scientific Institution. She was a strong advocate of women’s causes, secularism, birth control, Fabian socialism and workers’ rights. She read a large number of books and soon she began to question many long-held religious beliefs. She wrote a column for the National Reformer, the newspaper of the National Secular Society.

The Society advocated a secular state: an end to the special status enjoyed by Christianity. She was close to the Society’s leader, Charles Bradlaugh. In 1877 they published a book by the American birth-control campaigner Charles Knowlton. Besant was a good writer and a powerful orator. Her membership of the Fabian Society lapsed in 1890 and she became a member of the Theosophical Society.

She came to India for the first time in 1893. After coming to India, she devoted her energy not only to the Society, but also to India’s freedom and progress. Under Annie Besant’s leadership, there was a refocusing of the Theosophical Society’s activities on “The Aryavarta”, as she called central India. She was instrumental in setting up a school for boys to groom future leaders for India. She had joined the Indian National Congress and in 1916 she launched the Home Rule League, actively promoting self-rule for India. She passed away on September 20, 1933.