Annie Besant was a British Socialist, theosophist, women’s rights activist, writer, educationist, and philanthropist. She was an ardent supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule.
She was born as Annie wood in 1847 in London into an upper middle-class family. At age of 20 she married Frank Besant and they had two children. However, Annie’s increasingly unconventional religious views led to their legal separation in 1873.
After her divorce, she began to question her long-held religious beliefs and began to write attacks on the churches and the way they controlled people’s lives. She was against the role of Church of England as a state-sponsored faith.
In 1890 Besant met Helena Blavatsky, and over the next few years her interest in theosophy grew. 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.
In 1902 Besant had written that “India is not ruled for the prospering of the people, but rather for the profit of her conquerors, and her sons are being treated as a conquered race.”. She encouraged Indian national consciousness, attacked caste and child marriage, and worked effectively for Indian education.
In 1907, Besant became the president of the Theosophical Society. She established the Theosophical Order of Service and the Sons of India in 1908.
When World War I broke out in 1914, she helped launch the Home Rule League(in 1916) along with Lokmanya Tilak to campaign for democracy in India, and dominion status within the British Empire.
She also became involved in politics in India, joining the Indian National Congress. This led to her election as first woman president of the Indian National Congress, in late 1917. She also started the Women’s Indian Association in 1917.
She was declared a World Teacher after her lecture on Theosophy in 1926 and was appointed president of the Theosophical Society for the fourth time in 1928.
In 1931 she became ill in India. She died in 1933, at age 85, in Adyar, Madras Presidency, British India. Her body was cremated.