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Cornelia Sorabji – India’s first female lawyer

Cornelia Sorabji was a brave woman who had set a benchmark for the women of upcoming generations while paving a way for their
Cornelia Sorabji was a brave woman who had set a benchmark for the women of upcoming generations while paving a way for their better future.


  1. Introduction to Cornelia Sorabji
  2. Early Life
  3. Education
  4. Her works and Legal Career
  5. Social and Reform Work

1. Introduction to Cornelia Sorabji

We have heard of mighty and strong women who fought for the rights and Cornelia Sorabji was the first-ever female graduate of Bombay University, who was admitted to the Allahabad High Court to fight for the rights of former leaders. Born on 15th November 1866, she has helped over 600 women and orphans and fought many legal battles without even charging a penny.

2. Cornelia Sorabji – Early Life

She was born to Sorabji Karsedji, a Parsi and Francina Ford, as one of the nine children in the Sorabji family. Cornelia’s father was an influential missionary and therefore, recognized the importance of education which was evident in her academic prowess. Her mother was also a prominent figure in establishing several girls’ schools in Pune and bringing awareness regarding the property rights of women. Most of her childhood was spent in Belgaum and afterwords in Pune.

Cornelia Sorabji was the first female lawyer and a trailblazing barrister born under British colonial rule. She has also been the first woman to be admitted to Oxford in 1892, which was a milestone for women around the globe.

3. Cornelia Sorabji – Education

Cornelia Sorabji
Cornelia Sorabji at Oxford

Cornelia Sorabji was lucky enough to receive her education in both schools and at home. She was enrolled in Deccan College and topped the Presidency in the final degree examination. She completed her law degree in 1888 but was denied her scholarship which would have been her green flag to study in England. After taking her temporary teaching at a men’s college in Gujarat, she became the first female graduate of Bombay University and then wrote to the National Indian Association to appeal for funds so that she can study abroad. Many people made significant donations for her education like Florence Nightingale, Writer Adelaide Banning and Scottish Politician Sir William Wedderburn. Their contribution enabled Cornelia to move to England and study at Somerville College, Oxford.

Cornelia Sorabji

Two years after Cornelia Sorabji graduated in 1894 and returned to India to become a specialist advocate for purdahnashins, a group of women who were prohibited from carrying on any communications with men. Cornelia fought for their rights courageously which included their inheritance rights along with her own. She was not allowed to defend in the court as a female lawyer she did not hold the professional standing. So she presented herself for the LLB examination from Bombay University in 1897 and then the pleader’s examination from the Allahabad High Court in 1899. Despite her successful education and degrees, she was not recognized as a barrister as the field of law then barred women from practicing the work.

As a solution to it, she wrote a petition to the India Office in 1902 to provide for a female legal advisor for the representation of women and minors in the courts. After two years, she was appointed Lady Assistant to the Court of Wards of Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, and Assam. In the next twenty years, she helped over 600 women and orphans by fighting their legal battles without charging anything. She has also written about many of these cases in her work, Between the Twilights plus her two autobiographies. Due to her works, the legal profession was open for women in 1924 in the country when Cornelia began to practice in Kolkata. Due to the patriarchal situations and male bias, she was confined to just give opinions on several cases rather them presenting the case.

Cornelia Sorabji retired from the high court in the year 1929, after which she settled in London.

5. Social and Reform Work:

Sorabji worked with the Bengal branch of the National Council for Women of India. She was also associated with the Federation of University Women and the Bengal League of Social Service for Women. She was also awarded the Kaisar – i – Hind Gold Medal in the year 1909.

Cornelia Sorabji has also supported the campaign for India Independence to relate to women’s rights to the full capacity for self-government. She undoubtedly supported the Indian culture but she promoted reform of Hindu laws related to child marriage and Sati.

During the late 1920s, she adopted an anti-nationalist attitude and believed that the British needed to be in India to counter the dominance of Hindutva. Sorabji traveled around the world spreading her political views which provided her the needed support to carry on with her ideas of social reforms.