Annie Besant

Date of birth: 
01 Oct 1847
City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
20 Sep 1933
Location of death: 
Adyar, India

Annie Besant was a leading member of the Theosophical Society, a feminist and political activist, and a politician in India. She had a close relationship with Charles Bradlaugh, MP, a free-thinker who was often known as the 'Member for India'. Having declared herself an atheist, Annie Besant was drawn to other ideas of spiritualism and joined the Theosophical Society in 1889. She was very close to the co-founder, Madame Blavatsky, and allowed Blavatksy to live in her house in St John's Wood from 1889. In 1907, after the death of Colonel Olcott, Besant was made President of the Theosophical Society.

In 1911, Besant brought Jiddu Krishnamurti and his brother to England and acted as their guardian. She proclaimed in 1927 that Krishnamurti was the 'coming', i.e., messiah, and was devastated when he left the Theosophical Society in 1929.  

Besant also campaigned for the rights of Indians and for Indian 'home rule'. She launched the Home Rule League in 1916, modelling the Indian plight on that of Ireland. She was a member of the Fabian Society, owing to her close relationship with George Bernard Shaw. In 1917 she became the first woman president of the Indian National Congress at a session in Calcutta.

Published works: 

Why I Became a Theosophist (London: Freethought Publishing, 1889) 

An Autobiography (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1893)

The Bhagavad Gita (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1895)

The Case for India [Congress Presidential Address, December 1917] (London: Home Rule for India League, 1918)

Contributions to periodicals: 

Lucifer (edited September 1889 to 1909)

The Theosophical Review (edited 1897-1909)


The Manchester Guardian, 6 August 1895 (Bhagvad-Gita)

Western Mail (Cardiff), 6 August 1895

Liverpool Mercury, 28 August 1895

For articles relating to Annie Besant, see: 'A Talk with Mrs Annie Besant', Christian World, 12 April 1894, p. 259; 'The New Messiah', The Spectator, 26 June 1926

Secondary works: 

Bright, Esther, Old Memories and Letters of Annie Besant (London: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1936)

Nethercott, Arthur, The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1963)

Taylor, Anne, ‘Besant , Annie (1847-1933)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)[]

Broughton, T. L. , 'Women's Autobiography: The Self at Stake?', Prose Studies 14 (September 1991), pp. 76-94

Archive source: 

Women's Library, London Metropolitan University, London

Theosophical Society Archives, Adyar, India

Letters to Annie Besant, 1914-1926, Mss Eur C888, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Theosophical Society in England, London

College of Psychic Studies, South Kensington