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Brief Chronology of the Theosophical Society

Below is an enumeration of significant events in the history of the Theosophical Society. There is a bibliography of recommended books on theosophical history at the end of the chapter.

§ Years before the Theosophical Society was established, the Mahatmas or Adepts have decided to reintroduce the Ancient Wisdom to the modern world and selected the main person who will do such work – Helena P. Blavatsky. “. . . Imperfect as may be our invisible agent . . . yet she is the best available at present, and her phenomena have for about half a century astounded and baffled some of the cleverest minds of the age.” “. . . No second to her living fit for this work.” (ML 2, p. 9; ML 45, p. 125)
blavatsky Helena P. Blavatsky, principal co-founder of the Theosophical Society

§ Blavatsky met her Master in London in 1851 when she was told of the work she can do and the sacrifices she may have to face. (HPB, pp. 45-47)

§ In 1868, she traveled to India and Tibet and met again her Master as well as other Adepts. There she was trained. (HPB, pp. 80-101)

§ She was made to meet and team up with Henry Steel Olcott, a man to stand as leader; “. . . far from being the best, but . . . he was the best one available.” (ML 45, p. 125)
olcott Henry Steel Olcott, first President of the Theosophical Society

§ The Theosophical Society was established in 1875 in New York and was given seven years of trial without the abnormal interference of the Adepts. (ML 45, pp. 124-5)

§ Blavatsky’s first great work, Isis Unveiled, was published in 1877. Its first printing was immediately sold out despite its scholarly erudition.

§ In 1878, HPB and Olcott left for Bombay India; in 1882 the permanent headquarters was transferred to Adyar, Madras (now Chennai) in South India. (HPB, pp. 199 ff.) § Olcott met the Mahatma Morya in New York for the first time and talked with him for an hour; the Master left his turban to demonstrate that the experience was not an illusion. (HPB, pp. 179-180)

§ HPB and Olcott moved to Bombay in 1879 and later met Alfred P. Sinnett, the editor of Pioneer, and Allan O. Hume, founder of the Indian National Congress. (HPB, pp. 199, 216)

§ In October, 1879, the first issue of the Theosophist was published in Bombay. It continues up to this day.

§ Sinnett published The Occult World in 1881 where he recounts phenomena produced by HPB that he witnessed.

§ In 1882, Sinnett received his first letter from Mahatma Koot Hoomi in reply to two letters that the former wrote. This began a long correspondence where the Mahatma KH and Morya wrote more than a hundred letters to Sinnett, Hume and others, most of which are now preserved in the British Library or the Adyar Archives of the Theosophical Society. (HPB, pp. 221 ff.)

§ Sinnett published Esoteric Buddhism in 1883, outlining the teachings of the Mahatmas based on the letters that he received from them.

§ C. W. Leadbeater joined the TS in 1884 and traveled to India with HPB.

§ In 1884, the Coulomb Conspiracy broke out where Emma Coulomb and her husband conspired with some Christian missionaries to publish alleged letters by H.P. Blavatsky which H.P.B. claimed to be forged.

§ The Secret Doctrine was published in 1888. The Esoteric School was also founded in the same year.

§ Annie Besant joins the TS in 1889 after reading The Secret Doctrine.

§ Blavatsky died in 1891 in England.

§ William Q. Judge was charged with forging Mahatma letters in 1894-5, which he denied. The matter led to the secession of the American section from the Theosophical Society. Judge died in 1896, and was succeeded by Katherine Tingley. Tingley renamed the organization Universal Brotherhood and the Theosophical Society.

§ Olcott died in 1907. She was succeeded by Annie Besant, who served until 1933. During this period, the Theosophical Society reached its peak in membership and renown.
ts hq
International headquarters of the Theosophical Society in Adyar, Chennai, India
adyar library

§ In 1909, Leadbeater discovers J. Krishnamurti after he noted the young boy’s remarkable aura. He and Annie Besant later assumed custody over him and his brother Nitya. Both were educated in Europe.

§ In 1909, Robert Crosbie broke off with Katherine Tingley and formed the United Lodge of the Theosophist (ULT).

§ In 1911, Annie Besant announced that Krishnamurti had been chosen to be the vehicle of the World Teacher. She established the Order of the Star of the East to carry out the work of Krishnamurti.

§ In 1912, Rudolf Steiner, General Secretary of the TS in Germany, opposed the Order of the Star of the East and declared that its members cannot be members of the German TS. As this violated the freedom of thought principle in the TS, the German charter was withdrawn by Annie Besant. Steiner later formed another organization called the Anthroposophical Society.

§ In 1929, Krishnamurti declared that “truth is a pathless land” and that it cannot be found through any organization or belief system. He dissolved the Order of the Star of the East, and continued his lecture work independently of the Theosophical Society.

§ Also in 1929, Katherine Tingley died and was replaced by G. De Purucker. The name of the splinter organization was reverted back to Theosophical Society, and later became known as Theosophical Society (Pasadena) after it moved its headquarters to Pasadena, California, in 1951.

§ Annie Besant died in 1933 and George Arundale became the next President.

§ In 1934, C. W. Leadbeater died.

§ Arundale died in 1945 and was succeeded by C. Jinarajadasa.

§ Arthur L. Conger was elected as Leader of the TS (Pasadena) in 1945. He died in 1951 and was succeeded by James A. Long.

§ C. Jinarajadasa started the School of the Wisdom in 1949. He died in 1953 and N. Sri Ram was elected President.

§ Grace Knoche became Leader of TS (Pasadena) in 1971.

§ In 1973, when Sri Ram died, John Coats was elected President. He presided over the Centenary World Congress of the TS in 1975 in New York. He died in 1980 and Radha Burnier became the President. History of the Theosophical Society 5 Headquarters of the Theosophical Society, Adyar, Chennai, India

§ Randell C. Grubb became Leader of the TS (Pasadena) in 2006 upon the death of Knoche.


  • Short History of the Theosophical Society by Josephine Ransom. Theosophical Publishing House, Adyar.
  • H.P.B.: The Extraordinary Life and Works of Helena P. Blavatsky by Sylvia Cranston. Crown Publishers, New York.
  • Old Diary Leaves by Henry Steel Olcott. Six Volumes. TPH, Adyar.
  • When Daylight Comes by Howard Murphet. (Biography of H. P. Blavatsky) TPH, Wheaton.
  • The Occult World by Alfred P. Sinnett. (Account of the early days of the Theosophical Society and the phenomena produced by Blavatsky). Wizard Bookshelf, San Diego.
  • Reminiscences of H. P. Blavatsky and the Secret Doctrine by Countess Wachmeister. TPH, Wheaton.
  • J. Krishnamurti A Biography by Pupul Jayakar. Penguin Arkana, U.K.