This is an inspiring story of persistence and dauntlessness. A story of determination, devotion, pure hard work and the ultimate triumph. A story of a woman who was not famed enough but also not forgotten altogether. This is the story of Cornelia Sorabji.
Imagine the life of a woman who would come from a small town Devlali (near Nashik, Maharastra), being one of the nine children and that too in the background of 1860’s. Imagine, what would she carve her life into?
Cornelia Sorabji sculpted her life into an exemplary model of a bold, exceptional and a brilliant woman.
She was born on 15 November 1866 in a Parsi- Christian family. Her father, Reverend Sorabji Karsedji believed in educating women, and that is how Cornelia’s initial years of education were comfortable and less struggling than her later ones. Her mother, Francina Ford, was adopted and raised by a British couple. She also supported and initiated women education. Her mother also helped in establishing several girls’ schools in Poona (now Pune). Cornelia’s mother influenced her educational decisions majorly.
Cornelia received her education both at home and at mission schools. She topped the Presidency in Deccan College and later took up a temporary position as a professor of English at a men’s college in Gujarat. Her father was one of the people who convinced Bombay University to admit women in their degree programs. Which eventually enabled Cornelia to study at Bombay University and thus she became the first female graduate of Bombay University.
Fighting the odds
In 1888 she wrote to National Indian Association for help to pursue further education. She was provided necessary assistance, and in 1889, she went to England. She became a Bachelor of Civil Laws at Somerville College, Oxford, becoming the first woman to ever do so. Cornelia marked her name in history, but this was not the first time it would happen.
She returned to India in 1894 and took up social and advisory work for the women. These women were forbidden to communicate with the outside male world. She fought many cases of property related issues but could not win any. Mainly because she was not considered a professional lawyer in Indian legal system. So, she gave LLB examination of Bombay University in 1897 and the pleader’s examination of Allahabad High Court in 1899 and attained a legal authority.
Despite this, it was in 1923 that she was recognized as a barrister when women got the right to become a law professional. Thus she became the first female advocate of India and the first women to practice law in India and Britain.
In the next 20 years of service, it is estimated that Cornelia helped over 600 women and orphans fight legal battles, sometimes at no charge.
Sorabji retired from the high court in 1929 and settled in London.
Cornelia Sorabji not only won cases but won hearts too! Motivator of her fellow countrymen and inspiration of the coming generations. This great lady departed from the world on 6 July 1954, leaving thousands of teary eyes behind.
She has written two autobiographies and many other books in which she wrote about her cases. Statued at several prestigious institutions and featured by Google on her 151st birthday, she is an achiever. Achiever of the era.