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1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Besant, Annie

< 1922 Encyclopædia Britannica

BESANT, ANNIE (1847-       ), English theosophist, was born in London Oct. 1 1847, the daughter of William Page Wood. She married in 1867 the Rev. Frank Besant (d. 1917), afterwards vicar of Sibsey, Lincs., but obtained a separation from her husband in 1873. She had become an ardent free-thinker, and shortly afterwards she was prosecuted and convicted, together with Charles Bradlaugh (see 4.372), for publishing “blasphemous” literature. From 1874 to 1888 she worked in close association with Bradlaugh both in politics and in free-thought propaganda, as a lecturer and a writer of pamphlets over the signature of “Ajax.” Her increasing tendency towards socialism of the more revolutionary type occasioned a divergence between them after 1885, which was completed in 1889 by her adhesion to the Theosophical Society. She became a devoted pupil of Mme. Blavatsky (see 4.48), founded schools at Benares, and was elected president of the Theosophical Society in 1907. In later years her activities again assumed a political cast. She founded the Indian Home Rule League and became its president in 1916, and in 1917 she was president of the Indian National Congress. In addition to her numerous free-thought pamphlets and a large number of later works on theosophy, she published her Autobiography in 1893, The Religious Problem in India (1902) and other books.