Born: October 1, 1847
Died: September 20, 1933
Achievements: President of Theosophical Society of India;
founded Home Rule League in 1916 and demand self rule in India; became
first woman president of Indian National Congress.
Annie Besant was a prominent Theosophist, social reformer, political
leader, women's rights activist, writer and orator. She was of Irish
origin and made India her second home. She fought for the rights of
Indian and was the first woman president of Indian National Congress.
Annie Besant was born as Annie Wood on October 1, 1847 in a middle-class
family in London. She was of Irish origin. Her father died when she was
only five. Annies mother supported the family by running a boarding
house for boys at Harrow. As a young woman she traveled widely in Europe
and this widened her outlook.
Annie Besant was married in 1867 to a clergyman called Frank Besant. But
the marriage did not last long. They legally separated in 1873. Annie
Besant had two children from the marriage. After her separation Annie
began to question not only her long-held religious beliefs but the whole
of conventional thinking. She began to write attacks on the Churches and
the way they controlled peoples lives. In particular she attacked
the status of the Church of England as a state-sponsored faith.
Annie Besant fought for the causes she thought were right, such as,
women's rights, secularism, birth control, Fabian socialism and workers'
rights. She became interested in Theosophy as a way of knowing God.
Theosophical Society was against discrimination of race, color, gender
and preached Universal brotherhood. To serve humanity at large was its
supreme goal. It was as a member of Theosophical Society of India that
she arrived in India in 1893.
She toured the entire country of India. It gave her first hand
information about India and middle-class Indians who were affected more
by British rule and its system of education. Her long-time interest in
education resulted in the founding of the Central Hindu College at
She also became involved in Indian freedom movement. In 1916, she
founded Home Rule League which advocated self rule by Indians. She
became the President of Indian National Congress in 1917. She was the
first woman to hold that post. She started a newspaper, "New India",
criticized British rule and was jailed for sedition. After the arrival
of Gandhiji on Indian national scene, differences arose between Mahatma
Gandhi and Annie Besant. Gradually, she withdrew from active politics.
Annie Besant died on September 20, 1933 at Adyar (Madras). As per her
wish her ashes were immersed in Ganga in Benares.