Annie Besant

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Annie Besant
Rudolf Steiner and Annie Besant

Annie Besant (* 1 October 1847 in London; † 20 September 1933 in Madras) was a British feminist, theosophist and author. She fought for free speech, social reform and women's and workers' rights.


Annie Besant was the daughter of impoverished parents and was adopted and brought up by an evangelical. At a young age she married the Anglican priest Frank Besant and became the mother of two children. Repelled by her husband's patriarchal values, she refused communion in 1873 and separated from him. The following year she met Charles Bradlaugh and took over as editor of his magazine. She was also the first student at the University of London to earn a Bachelor of Science degree.

In 1888 she directed the Match Girl's Strike. Her book, The Laws of Population, advocates birth control. In 1887, she wrote the pamphlet "Why I Do Not Believe in God" with Charles Bradlaugh, which is still considered one of the best summaries of arguments for atheism.

Annie Besant wrote a review of The Secret Doctrine of Helena Blavatsky in 1889 and sought contact with the author. Deeply impressed, she joined the Theosophical Society shortly afterwards, despite the horror of her socialist friends. She took over the publication of theosophical journals and quickly gained importance within Theosophy. In 1893 she represented it in the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago.

After her entry into India in 1893, she travelled through India for several years as a successful speaker. In 1898 she founded the Central Hindu College (CHC) in Benares together with Bhagavan Das, among others, to which she devoted most of her time in the following years. For the CHC, she drafted the continuous text of an introduction to Hinduism in 1901, which clearly bears reform Hindu and theosophical traits and was published with some success in 1903. The Central Hindu College became part of the Benares Hindu University in 1914, which was then in its formative stages.

In December 1901 Count Brockdorff and his wife asked Rudolf Steiner to take over the leadership of the theosophical work in Germany, which they had previously held. This then happened officially in October 1902 at the founding of the German Section of the Theosophical Society.

In 1907, after the death of Henry Steel Olcott, she became president of the Theosophical Society. In 1909, her associate Charles W. Leadbeater discovered in Jiddu Krishnamurti the coming Messiah. Primarily from staff and students of the CHC in Benares, first the Order of the Rising Sun and then the Order of the Star of the East was founded in 1911. Annie Besant began to claim psychic abilities herself at this time, which, together with the incipient cult of Krishnamurti, brought her increasing criticism and led to conflicts within the Theosophical Society and the CHC.

Due to increasing differences with Annie Besant, which mainly concerned the stylisation of the young Jiddu Krishnamurti as a kind of Messiah, Rudolf Steiner broke with the Theosophical Society in spring 1913. The Anthroposophical Society had already been founded in Cologne at the end of 1912, which was now joined by most of the Theosophists living in Germany and which soon had a presence in other countries as well.

At this time Annie Besant also became involved in the Indian independence movement. In 1913 she undertook a tour of India under the title "Wake up India", and in 1914 she joined the Indian National Congress (INC). There, in 1915, she proposed the formation of Home Rule Leagues to propagate Indian self-government with loyalty to the Crown. After the INC did not accept this proposal, she initiated this movement on her own (around the same time as a similar initiative by Tilak). In 1917 she was interned for this.

At that time, Annie Besant was one of the heads of the Indian national movement. After her release in 1917, she was elected President of the Annual Congress of the INC. After her internment, she placed more emphasis on legal methods of struggle. For this reason, she turned sharply against Gandhi's non-cooperation movement from 1919 onwards and lost political importance.

When Jiddu Krishnamurti rejected the role of messiah suggested to him in 1929 and dissolved the "Order of the Star of the East", the formerly omnipresent Theosophical Society in India lost much of its importance. Annie Besant remained its president until her death on 20 September 1933.


  • The Political Status of Women (1874)
  • On The Nature And The Existence Of God (1875)
  • Marriage, As It Was, As It Is, And As It Should Be: A Plea For Reform (1878)
  • The Law Of Population (1877)
  • Autobiographical Sketches (1885)
  • "Why I became a Theosophist" (1889)
  • An Autobiography (1893)
  • The Ancient Wisdom (1898)
  • Sanatana Dharma (with Bhagavan Das), Advanced Textbook, Elementary Textbook, Catechism (1903)
  • Bhagavad Gita (Translation) (1905)
  • Introduction to Yoga (1908)
  • India: A Nation (1917)
  • Occult Chemistry (with Charles W. Leadbeater) (1919)
  • The Doctrine of the Heart (1920)
  • Esoteric Christianity