Few are aware that Annie Besant was a prominent Co-Freemason, responsible not only for founding the British Federation, but also in encouraging the worldwide growth of The International Order of Co-Freemasonry, Le Droit Humain.
Born in 1847, Annie Besant's involvements ranged from trade unionist and philanthropist, to feminist leader and Fabian socialist. By 1889, "there was scarcely any modern reform (in England) for which she had not worked, written, spoken or suffered. An orator and writer with inspired temperament, Besant's convictions drew others to the Indian independence cause and it is said that George Bernard Shaw considered her Britain's greatest orator.
Annie moved to India in 1893. Annie Besant was largely responsible for the upbringing of the world renowned philosopher K. Krishnamurti, having started the Home Rule League in India and playing a large part in reviving the country's glorious cultural heritage. At a key period in the history of modern India, she attended the 1914 session of the Indian National Congress and had the honour to preside over it in 1917.
In 1877 Annie Besant was arrested for selling birth control pamphlets in London's slums. This helped to liberalize public attitudes though it cost her custody of her daughter. In response, she attained a science degree at London University. In 1888 she led the Match Girls' Strike that opened people's eyes to the cruel, unsafe labor environment of unskilled female factory workers. By then Annie Besant had converted to Theosophy. She became its European, and finally, worldwide head.
Annie Besant first became interested in Freemasonry during her early life in India. Her friends, Francesca and George Arundale, who shared her theosophical interests, took her to Paris to be initiated. Annie's sheer strength of character, in conjunction with her personal charisma, was chiefly responsible for the quick uptake of our Order in the U.K. This enthusiasm soon spread to India, Australia, Canada, South Africa and elsewhere around the world.
Annie's explanation of the purpose of Freemasonry was suitably unequivocal: "The International Order of Co-Freemasonry Le Droit Humain is not dogmatic. It works simply searching for the Truth. In Lodges, discussions concerning social and religious questions cannot in any case give more than explanations to members and enable them to do their duties as Freemasons with a better understanding".
"Regarding the regulation of the International Order of Co-Freemasonry, the Supreme Council is the guardian of the Constitution and as such respects the beliefs of all the members of the Obedience. No limit is put to the search for the Truth but of course, the greatest freedom cannot serve the peculiar interests of a member to the detriment of The Order. The obedience neither may nor must insist on its own convictions which are not shared by all its members".
Annie lived most of her final years in India. After campaigning brilliantly for Home Rule, she died in Madras in 1933. Annie Besant's 33rd degree regalia is kept at Hexagon House, along with various other memorabilia.