Thursday, July 22, 2010

Mossman on Cornelia Sorabji, 19th C Indian lawyer, and the challenge of women's biography

Gender and Professionalism in Law: The Challenge of (Women's) Biography has just been posted by Mary Jane Mossman, York University - Osgoode Hall Law School. It appears in Windsor Yearbook of Access to Justice (2009). Here’s the abstract:
This paper explores the story of a woman who "created" her life in the law in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although now almost unknown, Cornelia Sorabji achieved prominence as a woman pioneer in the legal profession, who provided legal services to women clients in northern India, the Purdahnashins. Sorabji's experiences as a woman in law were often similar to the stories of other first women lawyers in a number of different jurisdictions at the end of the nineteenth century: all of these women had to overcome gender barriers to gain admission to the legal professions, and they were often the only woman in law in their jurisdictions for many years. Yet, as Sorabii's story reveals, while ideas about gender and the culture of legal professionalism could present formidable barriers for aspiring women lawyers, these ideas sometimes intersected in paradoxical ways to offer new opportunities for women to become legal professionals. In exploring the impact of gender and legal professionalism on Sorabji's legal work, the paper also suggests that her story presents a number of challenges and contradictions that may require new approaches to gender history so as to capture the complexity of stories about women lawyers.
Photo: Cornelia Sorabji.