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Cornelia Sorabji

(1866—1954) barrister and social reformer


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(1866–1954), Indian lawyer. Cornelia Sorabji was a Parsi Christian who made her career as an employee of the British colonial state in India, working on behalf of purdah nashin (those usually elite women secluded from men) by bringing them to the attention of Raj officials and publicizing their condition in both Britain and India. Born in Poona to Christian missionary parents who were converts from Zoroastrianism, she was among the first Indian women to attend Oxford University, where she was in residence at Somerville College from 1889 to 1892. Like her famous compatriot Pandita Ramabai (1858–1922), Sorabji originally intended to become a doctor. But her English friends in Britain—including Lord and Lady Hobhouse, influential Britons who helped fund her stay in England—dissuaded her from this path, hoping instead that she would become a teacher and hence help to advance their own schemes for female education in India. In the end, Sorabji pursued neither medicine nor education but law. Under the direction of famous Oxford men such as A. V. Dicey and Benjamin Jowett, she passed the Bachelor of Civil Law exam in 1892; she qualified for the bar in 1922, by which time women were permitted to sit for the bar exam in Britain. After a brief postgraduate stint as a clerk in the London Law Offices of Lee and Pemberton, she was appointed “Lady Assistant to the Court of Wards of Bengal and Eastern Bengal and Assam” in 1904, a position that she held for over two decades, during which time she lived mainly in India but traveled regularly to Britain.

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From The Oxford Encyclopedia of Women in World History in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: History.


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