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

College of Nursing Ltd founded. The College of Nursing Ltd was founded on 27 March 1916 with just 34 members. By the end of year one there were 2,553 members.
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.
College of Nursing Ltd badge introduced. The design, which followed in a tradition of nursing badges, featured the initials 'C' and 'N' interlocked on a blue background, and symbols to represent the four nations of the United Kingdom.
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Queen Mary became the official patron of the College of Nursing. Until her death in 1953, Queen Mary was a great supporter of the College of Nursing and a regular visitor to Cavendish Square. The wife of King George V, she had a keen interest in nursing.
College granted Royal Charter. The College of Nursing Ltd applied for a Royal Charter in 1926 and was granted it in June 1929. Because the application was opposed by other nursing organisations, the College was not allowed to use the 'Royal' in its title until 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.
Princess (now Queen) Elizabeth accepts the position of President of the Student Nurses' Association.
Coat of arms granted. The Royal College of Nursing coat of arms recognised the College's role during the war. It was the first women's organisation to be allowed to use a shield, which represents military service. The motto ‘tradimus lampada’ means 'we carry the torch'.
Queen Elizabeth II became Patron of the Royal College of Nursing. When Queen Mary died in 1953, she had supported the Royal College of Nursing for over 30 years. Queen Elizabeth II agreed to become the new patron of the College.
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First public pay campaign. Between 1955 and 1960 nurses' wages fell to 60 per cent of the national average salary. The Royal College of Nursing began a campaign in support of higher pay when public sector salaries were frozen because of an economic crisis in 1961. The campaign mainly involved letter writing to MPs.
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.
Membership opened up to nursing students. Students became full members of the College for the first time as members of the Student Nurses' Section. Princess Margaret, patron of the Student Nurses' Association, became joint patron of the College.
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First meeting of Congress in Harrogate. The annual RCN Congress and Exhibition combined the separate meetings of the College's specialist nursing sections, Council and representative body.This Sharing Buttons
The RCN Welfare Advisory Service is established. The Raise the Roof campaign to increase nurses' pay is launched.
The RCN registers as a trade union.
'Linked hands' logo introduced. The logo was designed by David Hillman, who had designed the influential lifestyle magazine Nova in the 1960s and had worked on a new title design for the Nursing Times.
Royal College of Nursing Archives established. In 1986, The Royal College of Nursing appointed an archivist to safeguard and provide access to institutional records and objects given to the College.
First degrees offered by RCN Institute for Advanced Nursing Education. The RCN Institute's first degree programmes were offered in collaboration with the University of Manchester and later with the University of London and the University of Surrey.
Nurse prescribing becomes law following an RCN campaign.
The RCN changes its rules to allow industrial action if it does not harm patients.
RCN Direct launched. The Royal College of Nursing's new RCN Direct service, run from a call centre on the outskirts of Cardiff, opened on 1 March 1998 and promptly took 2000 calls during its first week.
Health care assistants admitted into membership. In 2000, members of the Royal College of Nursing voted to open associate membership to health care assistants (HCAs) with higher level vocational qualifications. In the 1990s, research found that HCAs were contributing to a higher standard of care and greater patient satisfaction.
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.
Health care assistants admitted to full membership. Following a vote at the Annual General Meeting, 81 per cent of the Royal College of Nursing membership supported admitting health care assistants to full membership of the College. HCAs gained full voting rights in College elections and two extra seats were created on the College council to represent them.
The Royal College of Nursing celebrates a centenary as the voice of nursing.