Josephine MacLeod, Miss (1858 – 1949)—Wealthy American lady of high society, the closest of all his American devotees and perhaps the greatest benefactress of the Order. Called herself “Friend of Swami Vivekananda”. Born at her paternal home in Illinois on 26.12.1858, daughter of John David MacLeod. Elder sister Mrs. Betty Sturges (later Leggett) also close friend and admirer of Swamiji. They first saw and heard him at the New York Vedanta Society on 29.1.1895 and Josephine, or Joe, considered that to be the time of her “real” birth, counting her age from that day. Recognized his words to be “truth” and said, “I listened to him for seven years and whatever he uttered was to me truth” (Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda, 2004, p. 228). Through Francis Leggett, soon a devoted admirer and Betty’s fiancé, the sisters came to know Swamiji well and he was their guest in New York. Was called “Joe” by him, “Yum” by sister Nivedita and Holy Mother named the two sisters “Jaya and Vijaya”. Called “Tantine” (Aunt) in the Order. Swamiji attended the wedding of Francis Leggett and Betty in Paris in August 1895. Swamiji wrote to her from London in September 1895 to arrange classes for him. Joe and Betty engaged J. J. Goodwin to take down the lectures of Swamiji. He spent happy and restful days with them at the Leggetts’ country estate Ridgely Manor. She travelled with him in America organizing lectures.
First visited Calcutta with Mrs. Bull and Swami Saradananda (14.2.1898). Lived in a house close to Belur Math with Mrs. Bull and Sister Nivedita. Met Holy Mother who received them warmly. After three months stay at Calcutta and Belur travelled with Swamiji and others in Northern India and Kashmir for about six months. Before leaving gave 800 dollars to Swamiji, the money being used to buy a press for publication of the journal Udbodhan.
On Swamiji’s second visit to America gave all-out support to him. Swamiji joined her and the Leggetts at the Paris Exposition (August 1900). On 24.10.1900 she travelled with him and others visiting Egypt and Southern Europe. Helped him to return to India from Egypt. In 1901 on her way to Japan with Okakura Kakuzu visited Calcutta (6.1.1902) and stayed at Belur. Visited Varanasi and Bodh Gaya with Swamiji (January 1902). In April 1902, when she met Swamiji, gave him 200 dollars, promising 50 dollars every month to meet his expenses. Swamiji had said to her, “I shall never see forty.” Returned to India (1916) and left with Mrs. Sevier after about 2 years. Visited India and Belur Math, where she loved to stay, several times. Helped build the first floor of the Guest House. The Mission being charged with seditious activities (1916) by the British Government, Joe met Lord Carmichael with Swami Saradananda and the aims and objectives of the Mission having been explained, the charges were withdrawn (The Life of Josephine MacLeod, pp. 151-52). Intervened to prevent the establishment of a railway yard beside Belur Math by meeting the Viceroy (Ibid., pp. 183-84). A few young monks having been imprisoned on charges of espionage, Joe secured their release by visiting the British Governor (Ibid., p. 183). Had beautiful crystal statuettes of Swamiji fashioned by Lalique (famous jeweller in Paris) which she presented to her friends and important acquaintances. Gifted some cows to Belur Math (Ibid., p. 175). Took Jules Bois to Belur Math to meet Swamiji on 17.2.1901 (Ibid., p. 116).
Upon Swamiji’s demise, after an initial period of mourning, dedicated her life to ensuring that his work and interests did not suffer for want of care. Maintained close touch with Belur Math, assisted Sister Nivedita, Christine and Mrs. Sevier. In January was in India for the first Monks’ Conference of the Math and the Mission (1.4.1926 to 8.4.1926). Spent the summer at Almora. Spent 1926 and most of 1927 in India and was back in January 1936 for the birth-centenary celebrations of the Master and left India for the last time on 13.3.1939, being unable to travel during World War II. Arrived at the Hollywood Vedanta Centre one day, old and ailing, and announced “I have come here to die.” Died on 11.10.1949.