News, Culture & Society

Google Doodle marks Cornelia Sorabji’s 151st birthday

The Google Doodle for the 15th of November 2017 celebrates India’s first female barrister Cornelia Sorabji, on what would have been her 151st birthday.

Created by illustrator Jasjyot Singh Hans, the latest Google Doodle depicts the Indian advocate Cornelia Sorabji in front of the Allahabad High Court.

Who is Cornelia Sorabji?

Cornelia Sorabji achieved a multitude of firsts as a successful Indian woman of her time. Born on the 15th of November 1866 in Nashik, India, Sorabji went on to become the first woman permitted to attend Bombay University where she was also the first woman to practice law on the subcontinent.

The Google Doodle depicts the Indian advocate Cornelia Sorabji at Allahabad High Court

After gaining a first class degree, British supporters helped to send her to Oxford University’s Somerville College where she befriended Master of Balliol College, Benjamin Jowett, and was then able to immerse herself into upper-class society, according to The Open University. 

Despite sitting the Civil Law exams she did not graduate, as women were not awarded degrees by Oxford University until 1922. Sorabji’s memoir India Calling truly depicts her struggles in the UK and when she returned to India in 1894, as she was barred from practicing her profession in both countries.  

Determined to practice law, Cornelia Sorabji became a legal advisor to the government for women who are forbidden by social custom to speak to men from the outside world, otherwise known as ‘purdahnashins’.

Widows in purdah are often entitled to their husband’s estates but their isolation prevented them from seeking legal help, as all lawyers were male at the time. Sorabji became a legal advocate for women in purdah and broke another glass ceiling by fighting for their right to be trained in nursing and work outside their homes 

The ever-changing Google Logo featuring Cornelia Sorabji, India's first female lawyer

The ever-changing Google Logo featuring Cornelia Sorabji, India’s first female lawyer

On what would have been her 150th birthday last year, Somerville College announced the Cornelia Sorabji Scholarship in Law in honour of the first female lawyer in India and the first Indian woman to study at Oxford. Divya Sharma was Somerville’s first Cornelia Sorabji Scholar and was soon followed by Navya Jannu.

After retiring in 1929, Cornelia Sorabji settled in England and died in her home in Finsbury Park, London, on the 6th of July 1954.

What is a Google Doodle?

The concept of the Google Doodle was created when Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin changed the design of their logo to show that they were out-of-office and attending Las Vegas’s Burning Man festival. In 2000, Dennis Hwang, a Google intern at the time, was asked to transform the logo for Bastille Day and after being so well-received, Hwang became chief doodler.

Google Doodles are now produced by a team of illustrators and engineers who welcome future ideas from users via their email