Besant, Annie

Annie Besant

Born in London in 1847, Annie Besant was only five years old when her father died. Unable to care for her, Annie’s mother sent her to live with a friend, where she was privately educated. At the age of 19, she married the Rev. Frank Besant and by the age of 23 had two children. When Annie began questioning her religious beliefs, Frank Besant ordered her to leave. The two divorced and Frank won custody of both children.

Completely rejecting Christianity in 1874, Annie joined the Secular Society and began writing articles on marriage and women’s rights for the radical National Reformer. She helped form a Matchgirls Union in 1888 to defend the rights of women workers, and led a strike against the Bryant & May match factory. She also joined the socialist group, the Fabian Society, where she became friends with Walter Crane and George Bernard Shaw. In 1889, she contributed an article to the influential book, Fabian Essays, and joined the Theosophical Society, soon moving to the Society's international headquarters at Adyar, Chennai, India. Even while in India, she remained active in the women’s rights movement and continued to write letters to British newspapers advocating women’s suffrage.

While in India, Annie worked with Gandhi, who credited her with "awakening India from her deep slumber." She also led the Hindu nationalist movement, founded Central Hindu College at Barares, and organized the Indian Home Rule League, becoming president in 1916. During the First World War, she was interned by British authorities. Elected president of the Indian National Congress in 1917 and general secretary of the National Convention of India in 1923, she became a well-known figure remembered by many Indians to this day.

At the same time, she worked tirelessly for the Theosophical Society, serving as the second President from 1907 until her death in 1933.The keynote of all her varied activities was her unswerving loyalty to Truth. As she said, "She (Truth) may lead me into the wilderness, yet I must follow her; she may strip me of all love, yet I must pursue her; though she slay me, yet will I trust in her; and I ask no other epitaph on my tomb but 'She tried to follow Truth'." Annie Besant died in India in 1933, the author of more than 40 books.

Although she had lectured widely on Theosophy, she may be best remembered for her sponsorship of the great spiritual teacher, Krishnamurti. Proclaiming the "Coming of the World Teacher," she adopted Jiddu Krishnamurti in 1911 and sent him to England to be educated. She remained his legal guardian until 1921.