Who was Cornelia Sorabji?

Cornelia Sorabji (1866–1954) was first female advocate in India and first woman to practice law in India and Britain. She was also the first woman graduate from Bombay University and first Indian national to study and graduate at a British (Oxford) university.

Cornelia was born in Nashik to Reverend Sorabji Karsedji and Francina Ford. Her father was a missionary and her mother, who was adopted and raised by a British couple, had helped to establish several girls schools in Pune.

He father was key figure to get the Bombay University convinced about admission of girls. Cornelia became first female graduate of Bombay university and in 1888 asked support from National Indian Association for assistance in completion of her education.

She went to England in 1889 and in 1892 became the first woman to take and pass Bachelor of Civil Laws exam at Somerville College, Oxford.

She returned to India in 1894 and started social and advisory work for women in veil / pardah who were forbid to communicate with outside male world, particularly for their property rights and issues. She was able to clear the LLM examination of Bombay University in 1897 but was not recognized as a barrister because of a law that barred women from practising.

In her over two decades long legal career, she helped hundreds of women and orphans.

Cornelia was also actively engaged in social reforms and was associated with several women organizations. For her services to Indian nation, she was also awarded Kaisar-i-Hind Gold Medal in 1909. Despite being an anglophile, she had supported the cause of self government in India and social reforms such as widow remarriage. However, she later turned a staunch opponent of political movements against British in India and condemned Mahatma Gandhi for his Civil Disobedience Movement.

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