Our history

For over 100 years, the Royal College of Nursing has been supporting nurses and promoting the vital importance of nursing staff. We are proud to have evolved into both a trade union and a professional body during that time.

Our historyWe began as the College of Nursing in 1916, a professional organisation with just 34 members and within three short years had secured our first parliamentary success. The Nurses’ Act was passed and the first ever nurses’ register created, meaning the public could now be confident that their newly registered nurses were trained to a professional standard. 

From there, the RCN grew from strength to strength, gaining a Royal Charter in 1928 and by the outbreak of the Second World War our membership had grown to 30,000. In 1939, King George VI conferred the title ‘Royal’ on the RCN and we played a vital role in ensuring the supply of nurses through the war Emergency Committee.

Today, we are honoured to be the largest professional association and union for nursing staff in the world.

1916 - 17

College of Nursing Ltd founded with 34 members. Scottish Board established in Edinburgh. Irish Board established in Dublin.


Following a successful College of Nursing campaign, the Nurses' Act is passed establishing a register for nurses for the first time.


Decision taken to close Irish Board, but the Belfast centre is unaffected. Queen Mary becomes official patron.

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