Besant, Annie (bĕzˈant) [key], 1847–1933, English social reformer and theosophist, b. Annie Wood. She steadily grew away from Christianity and in 1873 separated from her husband, a Protestant clergyman. In 1879 the courts deprived her of her children because of her atheism and alleged unconventionality. As a member of the National Secular Society she preached free thought and, as a member of the Fabian society, socialism. With Charles Bradlaugh she edited the National Reformer and with him reprinted an old pamphlet on birth control, The Fruits of Philosophy, for which they were tried (1877) on a charge of immorality and acquitted. In 1889 she embraced theosophy, becoming a disciple of Mme Blavatsky and, later, her biographer. She pursued her mission to India, where she soon became involved in nationalist politics. She founded the Central Hindu College at Benares (Varanasi) in 1898 and in 1916 established the Indian Home Rule League and became its president. She was president of the Indian National Congress in 1917, but later split with Gandhi. She traveled (1926–27) in England and the United States with her protégé Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom she announced as the new Messiah. President of the Theosophical Society from 1907, she wrote an enormous number of books and pamphlets on theosophy. Her works include her autobiography (1893), Four Great Religions (1897), The Ancient Wisdom (1897), and a translation of the Bhagavad Gita (1905).
See biographies by A. H. Nethercot (1960, 1963), R. Dinnage (1987), and C. Wessinger (1988).
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