home InDepth Cornelia Sorabji – First women to Graduate, First to study law at Oxford

Cornelia Sorabji – First women to Graduate, First to study law at Oxford

Share

For many Cornelia Sorabji is a symbol of the triumph of women and their rights (and with a good reason). She was born in Debe Nashik, India under the British rule. Exemplary woman who with her determination and courage reached to fulfill her goals and to create precedents not only in her country but also in the United Kingdom. She was the first woman to graduate from the University of Bombay, the first woman to study law at the University of Oxford, in fact, the first Indian citizen to study at any British university, the first advocate in India, and the first woman to practice law in India and Great Britain.

Example of Tenacity

We are used to seeing women working today and accomplishing in almost all sectors of life, but we have to place ourselves at the end of the 18th century. The then Victorian mentality made it impossible for a woman to work, something that was reserved exclusively for men. Women then were denied entry to the library, were not granted a scholarship or even sit for the lawyer examination.

Thanks to her determination and courage, Cornelia Sorabji was able to overcome all these obstacles and become the first woman (Indian or British) to not only to study at an English university but also to become a lawyer. Of course her problems did not end there; it took almost 30 years for her to be able to practice law in India because the laws of this country prevented a woman from practicing such a profession. She still did not let herself be defeated and decided to move on.

Auxiliary Lady of the Court of Wards

She was appointed Auxiliary Lady of the Court of Wards in 1907 and that position was exercised in other provinces over the following years. She took as her the cause of the women in purdah and of the minor children, working to bring a change social in their lives. It helped many women to change their lives, helping and assisting them in a society where a woman needed to have a man by her side to support her or else they were not considered part of society. In most cases these women possessed huge properties, but they did not have access to the legal experience necessary to defend it. Sorabji received special permission to present petitions on behalf of the purdahnashins to the British agents of the principalities of Kathiawar and Indore and although she could not defend them in court for not being considered a lawyer to the law, but the help she gave them was extraordinary.

Social Activities

Sorabji was also actively involved in social reforms. She was linked to the Bengal branch of the National Council of Women in India, the Federation of University Women and the Bengal League of Social Service for Women. For her services to the Indian nation, she was awarded the Kaisar-i-Hind Gold Medal in 1909.

Her tireless work in favor of women earned her the recognition of these, encouraged them to leave their homes and their villages to give their opinion and to show their worth.

In spite of all the adversities, finally in 1929 as part of the opening of India the laws changed and finally she was granted official recognition as an attorney and joined the bar association.

She retired from her professional life and went to live in England but she made frequent trips to India. She died in the 50s, leaving behind a legacy impossible to match and it is for all this that Google paid  homage to her on November 15th with its corresponding Google Doodle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *