Captain James Henry Sevier who had served the British Indian Army for five years and his wife Charlotte Elizabeth Sevier, met Swami Vivekananda in England in 1895.
In 1896, the Swami and the Seviers travelled for several weeks through Switzerland, Germany, and Italy.
In the Alps, Swami Vivekananda expressed a desire to have a mountain retreat for monks in the Himalayas. In December 1896 the couple went to India to follow the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and with a plan to buy a place near Almora and set up an Ashram similar to what Swami Vivekananda had described.
The Seviers purchased land near Almora in 1898.
Set amidst deodar, pine and oak forests; the land had been a tea farm and estate.
With the help of Swami Swarupananda, the ashram was set up, along with a small dwelling for the monks, ashramites and the Seveirs around the same time as the Belur Math was being established near Kolkata.
They moved in on 19 March 1899, the birth anniversary of Sri Ramakrishna that year.
The publication of the Swami’s English journal Prabuddha Bharata was suspended in May 1898 after the death of its first editor, 24-year old B. R. Rajam Iyer at Chennai.
Swami Vivekananda asked Sevier and his wife to revive the magazine, and the editorship was given to Swami Swarupananda, who became the first head of the Ashram upon its opening on 19 March 1899, but also remained its editor, at its new base, until his death in 1906.
In a letter to Swami Swarupananda, editor of Prabuddha Bharata, Mayavati, Swami Vivekananda wrote the following letter and recommendation on the way the Ashram was to be conducted:
MY DEAR S,
I have no objection whether Mrs. Sevier’s name goes on top or mine or anybody else’s; the prospectus ought to go in the name of the Seviers, mustering my name also if necessary. I send you few lines for your consideration in the prospectus. The rest are all right.
I will soon send the draft deed.
The lines for the prospectus are given below.
In Whom is the Universe, Who is in the Universe, Who is the Universe; in Whom is the Soul, Who is in the Soul, Who is the Soul of Man; knowing Him — and therefore the Universe — as our Self, alone extinguishes all fear, brings an end to misery and leads to Infinite Freedom. Wherever there has been expansion in love or progress in well-being, of individuals or numbers, it has been through the perception, realisation, and the practicalisation of the Eternal Truth — THE ONENESS OF ALL BEINGS. “Dependence is misery. Independence is happiness.” The Advaita is the only system which gives unto man complete possession of himself, takes off all dependence and its associated superstitions, thus making us brave to suffer, brave to do, and in the long run attain to Absolute Freedom.
Hitherto it has not been possible to preach this Noble Truth entirely free from the settings of dualistic weakness; this alone, we are convinced, explains why it has not been more operative and useful to mankind at large.
To give this ONE TRUTH a freer and fuller scope in elevating the lives of individuals and leavening the mass of mankind, we start this Advaita Ashrama on the Himalayan heights, the land of its first expiration.
Here it is hoped to keep Advaita free from all superstitions and weakening contaminations. Here will be taught and practiced nothing but the Doctrine of Unity, pure and simple; and though in entire sympathy with all other systems, this Ashrama is dedicated to Advaita and Advaita alone.
Captain Sevier died on 28 October 1900, while the Swami was out of India and the Captain was cremated in the nearby river Sarada, according to Hindu traditions as he wished. Swami Vivekananda visited the ashram from January 3-18 1901, primarily to console Mrs. Sevier.
Where the Swami stayed has been turned into a library.
Mrs. Sevier continued to live at the Ashram for several years.