By: Mick Yates
Annie Besant was born in London in 1847. Her marriage to a clergyman at the age of 19 was ill-fated, as her independent spirit clashed with his traditional views. Annie rejected Christianity and joined the Secular Society. She began writing articles for the National Reformer, on issues contentious at the time, such as the rights of women and marriage.
When Annie co-published the controversial book 'The Fruits of Philosophy' which advocated birth control, she narrowly escaped a prison sentence, when her conviction of 'publishing an obscene libel' was quashed by the Court of Appeal.
Annie joined the Social Democratic Federation and her newspaper, The Link began. It was for this publication that she famously wrote an article on the plight of the London Bryant & May match factory girls, highlighting the appalling pay and ill health caused by exposure to dangerous phosphorus fumes. She went on to become the leader of the Matchgirls' Union and successfully campaigned for improvements on their behalf.
Annie was also responsible for large scale reform of local schools, amongst her achievements was a programme of free school meals to the undernourished, and free medical examinations to all those in elementary school.
As leader of the Theosophical Society, Besant helped to spread the word around the world. She became involved in Indian nationalism and established the Indian Home Rule League of which she became President.
Annie Besant was a woman led by compassion and drive for equality, justice and truth. With little concern given to others opinion of her she was able to focus on leading those whose causes stirred something within her.
By Melanie Smith