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Our history

Founded in 1916 as a professional organisation for trained nurses, the Royal College of Nursing has evolved into a successful professional union. For almost a century the RCN has pioneered professional standards for nurses, in their education, their practice, and their working conditions. Today the RCN has over 400,000 members, and is uniquely acknowledged as the "voice of nursing" by both the government and the public.

You can find out more about our history and the history of nursing at the RCN Archives. A history of the Royal College of Nursing 1916-1990: A voice for nurses by Susan McGann, Anne Crowther and Rona Dougall is available to RCN members at the discounted price of £10.99 (normal retail price £19.99) plus postage - contact RCN Direct on 0345 772 6100 for details or generally available from Manchester University Press.

Key dates

1916 College of Nursing Ltd founded with 34 members and Mary S Rundle as Secretary. Standing Committees set up. Scottish Board established in Edinburgh

1917 Irish Board established in Dublin

1918 Sister Tutor's section established

1919 Following a successful College of Nursing campaign, the Nurses' Act is passed establishing a register for nurses for the first time. College receives Nation's Fund for Nurses endowment.

1920 Badge introduced. Quarterly College Bulletin published. Endowment fund set up for a Chair of nursing

1923 Public Health Section established

1925 Student Nurses Association formed by College as a separate body

1926 Decision taken to close Irish Board, but the Belfast centre is unaffected. Opening of College of Nursing building in Henrietta Place. Queen Mary becomes official patron

1927 Nursing Times becomes the official journal of the College of Nursing

1928 Royal Charter granted to the College. College of Nursing Ltd becomes College of Nursing

1933 Frances Goodall becomes Secretary

1936 Indemnity Insurance established

1938 Private Nurses Section established

1939 George VI grants the title "Royal" to the College, which now has 30,000 members. College badge redesigned. War Emergency Committee established for duration of WW2

1941 Nursing Reconstruction Committee (Horder) set up by the RCN. Society of Registered Male Nurses and Association of Sick Children's Nurses affiliate with the College

1942 First use of the title General Secretary

1944 Princess Elizabeth accepts position of President of the Student Nurses Association

1949 National Association of State Enrolled Nurses (NASEN) affiliates with the College. Ward and Departmental Sisters section set up

1951 Society of Mental Nurses affiliates with College

1952 Occupational Health Section established

1953 Association of British Paediatric Nurses affiliates with College. Birmingham Education Centre established

1957 Catherine Hall becomes General Secretary

1960 Membership open to all registered nurses including men

1961 Information officer appointed (Press & PR). A Reform of Nursing Education Committee (Platt) set up, which reported in 1964

1962 Welsh Board established

1963 Change of name as the RCN amalgamates with the National Council of Nurses to become the Royal College of Nursing and the National Council of Nurses of the UK (Rcn). International Department established

1964 Northern Irish Committee becomes a Board

1966 Branches Standing Committee becomes the Royal College of Nursing Representative Body (RRB)

1967 First meeting of the RRB. Membership records are computerised. Nursing Times returns to independent status

1968 Membership opened to nursing students. Nursing Standard begins as a bi-monthly publication, free to members

1969 Welfare Advisory Service established. Raise the Roof campaign to increase nurses' pay

1970 NASEN amalgamates with the RCN. State Enrolled Nurses Section established

1971 Education Department becomes the Institute of Advanced Nursing Education. Professional Nursing Department established

1973 Membership re-organisation begins, following review by the Tavistock Institute. Local Centres established. Stewards scheme established

1974 CHANNEL (Centre for Help and Advice for Newcomers to Nursing Education and Life in the UK) project set up to assist overseas nurses

1976 RCN registers as a Trade Union. First Fellowships (FRCN) awarded. Membership Centres re-organised to match NHS boundaries. New title adopted - Royal College of Nursing of the UK (RCN)

1979 Nursing Standard becomes a weekly journal. Records Dept moves to Cardiff. AGM amendment to Charter gives students limited voting rights. Trevor Clay becomes Deputy General Secretary

1980 Motion to discard Rule 12 (right to strike) rejected at AGM. Catharine Hall becomes first Chair of the UK Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCC)

1981 Bridge that Gap pay campaign launches. Membership re-organisation takes place

1982 Trevor Clay becomes General Secretary

1985 The RCN's Commission on Nursing Education begins its work, chaired by Dr Harry Judge

1989 Christine Hancock becomes General Secretary

1992 Nurse prescribing became law following a concerted RCN campaign

1995 The RCN changed its rules to allow industrial action which does not harm patients

1998 The RCN launches RCN Direct, its 24-hour information and advice service

2001 Health care assistants admitted into membership for the first time. The RCN establishes nine English regional boards. Beverly Malone becomes General Secretary

2002 The Learning Zone online continuing professional development site is launched, offering members flexible, bite-sized learning resources available 24-hours a day

2007 Dr Peter Carter becomes General Secretary

2010 The RCN ceases to be a charity and the independent RCN Foundation charity is set up to suport nursing and improve the health and wellbeing of the public