Annie Besant, née Wood (1 October 1847 – 20 September 1933) was a British socialist, theosophist, women’s rights activist, writer, orator, and supporter of both Irish and Indian self-rule.
In 1867, Annie, at age 20, married Frank Besant, a clergyman, and they had two children. However, Annie’s increasingly anti-religious views led to their legal separation in 1873. She then became a prominent speaker for the National Secular Society (NSS), as well as a writer, and a close friend of Charles Bradlaugh. In 1877 they were prosecuted for publishing a book by birth control campaigner Charles Knowlton. The scandal made them famous, and Bradlaugh was subsequently elected M.P. for Northampton in 1880.
Annie Wood was born in 1847 in London into a middle-class family of Irish origin. She was proud of her heritage and supported the cause of Irish self-rule throughout her adult life. Her father died when she was five years old, leaving the family almost penniless. Her mother supported the family by running a boarding house for boys at Harrow School. However, she was unable to support Annie and persuaded her friend Ellen Marryat to care for her Marryat made sure that she had a good education. Annie was given a strong sense of duty to society and an equally strong sense of what independent women could achieve. As a young woman, she was also able to travel widely in Europe. There she acquired a taste for Roman Catholic colour and ceremony that never left her.
“World Teacher” project
In 1909, soon after Besant’s assumption of the presidency, Leadbeater “discovered” fourteen-year-old Jiddu Krishnamurti(1895–1986), a South Indian boy who had been living, with his father and brother, on the grounds of the headquarters of the Theosophical Society at Adyar, and declared him the probable “vehicle” for the expected “World Teacher”. The “discovery” and its objective received widespread publicity and attracted worldwide following, mainly among theosophists. It also started years of upheaval, and contributed to splits in the Theosophical Society and doctrinal schisms in theosophy.
Later years and death
Besant tried as a person, theosophist, and president of the Theosophical Society, to accommodate Krishnamurti’s views into her life, without success; she vowed to personally follow him in his new direction although she apparently had trouble understanding both his motives and his new message. The two remained friends until the end of her life.
In 1931 she became ill in India.
Besant died on 20 September 1933, at age 85, in Adyar, Madras Presidency, British India. Her body was cremated.