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RCN History

Our history

The RCN from 1916 to the present

Since 1916, the Royal College of Nursing has been supporting nurses and promoting the vital importance of nursing staff. We began as the College of Nursing, a professional organisation with just 34 members. Since then, we've evolved into the largest professional association and union for nursing staff in the world with more than 435,000 members.

Important dates in RCN history

1916–17: The College of Nursing Ltd is founded with 34 members. The Scottish Board is established in Edinburgh and the Irish Board in Dublin.

1919: Following a successful College of Nursing campaign, the Nurses' Act is passed, establishing a register for nurses for the first time. The public can now be confident that their newly registered nurses are trained to a professional standard.

1928: A Royal Charter is granted to the College.

1939 George VI grants the title "Royal" to the College, which now has 30,000 members. The RCN plays a vital role in ensuring the supply of nurses through the World War Two Emergency Committee.

1944: Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth accepts the position of President of the Student Nurses' Association.

1960: RCN membership is opened to all registered nurses, including men.

1963: The RCN joins the National Council of Nurses to become the Royal College of Nursing and the National Council of Nurses of the UK (RCN). The International Department is established.

1968: RCN membership is opened to nursing students.

1969: The RCN Welfare Advisory Service is established. The Raise the Roof campaign to increase nurses' pay is launched.

1976: The RCN registers as a trade union.

1992: Nurse prescribing becomes law following an RCN campaign.

1995: The RCN changes its rules to allow industrial action if it does not harm patients.

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

2001: Health care assistants are allowed to become members for the first time. The RCN establishes nine English regional boards.

2002: The online Learning Zone is launched, offering members flexible, bite-sized learning resources available 24-hours a day.

2007: Dr Peter Carter OBE becomes Chief Executive & General Secretary.

2009: The RCN is accredited by Investors in People.

2010: The RCN ceases to be a charity and the independent RCN Foundation charity is set up to support nursing and improve the health and wellbeing of the public. The Frontline First campaign is launched to highlight cuts to nursing posts.

2011: The RCN makes its debut in the celebrated Sunday Times top 100 employers list, receives two star accreditation from Best Companies and launches its health and wellbeing programme for staff.

2012: The RCN is awarded the prestigious Investors in People gold standard and launches its This is Nursing campaign to celebrate the positive work of the UK’s nursing staff.

2013: The RCN is awarded the Royal Society for Public Health’s Health & Wellbeing Award for its UK-wide workplace health and wellbeing programme.

2014: The What if…? campaign is launched to fight for members’ pay and conditions.

2015: The RCN maintains a place in the Sunday Times list of the 100 best not-for-profit employers and its two star accreditation from Best Companies.

2015: Janet Davies becomes Chief Executive & General Secretary.

RCN Centenary banner

100 years of the RCN

In 2016, we're celebrating the RCN's history and planning for a successful future. Be a part of it.

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