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India’s First Woman Lawyer: 10 Lesser Known Facts About Cornelia Sorabji

She was the first female graduate of Bombay University to be admitted to the Allahabad High Court. In 1889, she became the first woman to read law at Oxford University, and also the first Indian to study at any British university

Cornelia Sorabji was the first female graduate from Bombay University, as well as the first woman to study law at Oxford University. The first female advocate in India, also the first woman to practice law in India and Britain. A Google Doodle celebrated her 151st birthday on 15 November 2017.

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Here are 10 lesser known facts about Cornelia Sorabji you may not be known before: 

1. She was the first Indian national to attend a British University, but before that, she was also the first woman to graduate in law from India as early as 1892.

2. Cornelia was born in Nashik to a Parsi missionary in the erstwhile Bombay Presidency of colonial India on this day in 1866.

3. It was her parents who encouraged her to take higher studies. They were advocates of women’s education and also established several girls schools in Pune.

4. When Cornelia took up law at Oxford, it was a time when universities were reluctant to accept female students. The National Indian Association helped her. Though she completed her course in 1894, she didn’t receive a degree. Oxford University started awarding degrees to women only since 1922.

In 2012, a bust of her was unveiled at Lincoln's Inn, London. Wikimedia Commons
In 2012, a bust of her was unveiled at Lincoln’s Inn, London. Wikimedia Commons

5. After completion of her education, both India and England didn’t allow Cornelia to plead in courts. She returned to her homeland and became a legal advisor.

6. Cornelia supported the cause of purdahnashins and even succeeded in pursuing the government to appoint Lady Assistants to the courts to help women litigants.

7. To obtain a law degree, she appeared again for LLB examination at Bombay University. She became the first woman graduate from the institution. However, she wasn’t acknowledged as a barrister.

8. It was in 1923 that colonial courts opened their doors to women advocates. Next year, she began practising in Kolkata. 

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9. Six years later she retired and moved to London. She died on July 6, 1954.

10. India Calling: The memories of Cornelia Sorabji is her published autobiographies, while India Recalled is a biography of her parents.

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