Key Information

Reference code





  • 1887-1996 (Creation)

Level of description



30 linear metres

Scope and content

Archives of the Royal British Nurses Association (RBNA) and the British College of Nurses (BCN), comprising: RBNA administrative records including: General Council minutes 1887-1961; Annual General Meeting minutes 1889-1946; Executive Committee minutes, 1887-1982; Registration Board minutes, 1890-1904; Registration Committee minutes, 1904-1923; Membership Registers, 1888-1966; Register of Midwives, 1890-1908; Nursing Journal Editorial Committee minutes, 1891-1906; Finance Sub-committee minutes, 1895-1909; Auxiliary Nurses Society minutes, 1903-1904; Trained Nurses Annuity Fund minutes 1912-1931, salary book, 1957-1965; Princess Christian Memorial Committee minutes and accounts, 1919-1927; House Committee minutes, 1921-1926; League of Private Nurses minutes, 1929-1949; Visitors Books, 1917-1961; Annual Reports (printed) 1902, 1913, 1915-1916, 1918, 1926, 1936, 1953-1954- 1959-1971, 1975, 1978, 1982, 1983, 1986; Accounts (printed) 1912, 1914, 1916, 1919-1920, 1923, 1927, 1929, 1932-1938, 1944-1946, 1950-1953, 1955, 1959-1963, 1965-1969, 1971-1973, 1976-1978, 1981-1983, 1985, 1988, 1990-1996; Edith Mary Fletcher Fund accounts (printed) 1963-1969, 1971-1973, 1975-1976, 1978, 1986, 1990-1996; Trained Nurses Annuity Fund Annual Reports (printed) 1887-1888, 1890-1895, 1897, 1899, 1906-1909, 1922-1924, 1929-1949, 1951, 1953, 1980; Trained Nurses Annuity Fund accounts (printed) 1919, 1926-1928, 1935, 1937, 1950, 1952-1955, 1959-1966, 1968-1970, 1972, 1974, 1978-1979, 1984, 1987, 1989, 1991-1996 Letters from HRH Princess Christian to officers of the Association (mainly Isabel Macdonald), 1893, 1900, 1917-1921 (22 items) Other Royal correspondence, 1917-1998 including letters from Princess Arthur of Connaught: (25 items) RBNA general letters and papers, 1886-1994, including letters to Ethel Fenwick (Mrs Bedford Fenwick) on the establishment of the RBNA, 1887-1888; correspondence and papers on the Association's application for a Royal Charter, 1891-1893; correspondence and papers on introduction of Nurse Registration Bills, 1908-1910; correspondence and papers on the foundation of the College of Nursing, and possible merger with the RBNA, 1916-1917; correspondence and papers on the College of Nursing's petition for a Royal Charter, and the RBNA's opposition, 1927; correspondence on the RBNA's opposition to the new Nurses' Registration Act, 1940; correspondence with the Standing Conference of Essex Matrons and the Ministry of Health on the position of assistant Nurses, 1942-1944; correspondence with the Ministry of Health on the Society of Chartered Nurses, 1953-1955; British College of Nurses (BCN) general letters and papers, 1926-1955; including Council minutes, 1926-1927; correspondence and papers on constitution and bye-laws, 1926-1927; press cuttings, 1926-1930; visitors book, 1929-1955; Book of Remembrance, 1926-1953; name and subject card indexes BCN: papers on the history of nursing, 1870-1955; including letters on the employment of lady nurses at the Hospital for Sick Children, Great Ormond Street, London, and the East London Hospital for Children, 1870; press cuttings about seven nurses involved in criminal proceedings, 1905-1910; copy of the British Journal of Nursing, containing account of the execution of Nurse Edith Cavell, 1915; correspondence and papers on nurses' registration, 1917-1918; notes on the nursing career of Mildred Heather-Bigg, (1857-1928) and Catherine Wood (1841-1930) BCN: material relating to Florence Nightingale, 1852-1939; including correspondence between Nightingale and William Clark, on sanitary reform in India, 1871-1875; obituaries, 1910; letters to Miss Bushby about Nightingale letters sold, given and loaned to her for the BCN's History of Nursing Section, 1930-1934; Papers relating to Ethel Fenwick (Mrs Bedford Fenwick), 1896-1937, including: press cuttings on exhibition on nursing held at St Martin's Town Hall, Charing Cross, London, 1896; business papers for the Nursing Journal and the British Journal of Nursing, 1899-1909; annotated copy of the Nurses' Registration Bill, 1914; annual reports of the Matrons' Council, 1926-1927; correspondence and papers on the Isla Stewart memorial committee, 1929; file of papers preserved by Fenwick relating to her being voted off the Florence Nightingale Foundation Standing Committee, 1937-1938 Papers relating to the International Council of Nurses (ICN), 1900-1937, including minutes of meeting of Provisional Committee, 1900; letter from Sister Agnes Karll, Berlin, on nurses in Germany, 1911; letter from Margot Larsson, Norwegian Council of Trained Nurses on nurses in Norway, 1915; papers on the 1929 ICN Congress in Montreal, Canada, 1929; papers on the 1933 ICN Congress, in Paris and Brussels, 1933; papers on the 1937 ICN Congress in London Printed material: RBNA Publications including Annual Reports, 1889-1890; Register of Trained Nurses, 1892; Roll of Members, 1909; Books on the history of nursing, Florence Nightingale and the Royal Family; Pamphlets on the history of nursing; Periodicals including British Journal of Nursing , 1888-1955; Nurses' Journal , 1891-1918 [merged with British Journal of Nursing , 1918]; International Nursing Review , 1926-1939; Journal of the Royal British Nurses' Association , 1947-1963 Photographs and illustrations, 1863-1950, including photographs of the Royal Family, Florence Nightingale, Mrs Bedford Fenwick and her family, and other officers of the RBNA including Isobel Macdonald, Margaret Breay and Miss H M Campbell; photographs and illustrations relating to the history of nursing, including photographs, training certificates and papers relating to the nursing career of Agnes Wotherspoon-Baird, 1911-1950; Embroidered silks commemorating the Coronation of King George IV, 1821, the International Exhibition, London, 1862, and Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, 1897 Artefacts including RBNA badges, other badges and medals and RBNA banner

System of arrangement

Collection arranged in 12 classes: RBNA minute books and membership records; Annual Reports and Accounts; Letters from HRH Princess Christian; Other Royal Letters; RBNA general letters and papers; British College of Nurses: general letters and papers; BCN: papers on the History of Nursing Section; BCN: material relating to Florence Nightingale; Papers relating to Mrs Bedford Fenwick; Papers relating to the International Council of Nurses; Printed material and Artefacts

General Information

Name of creator


Biographical history

The Royal British Nurses Association (RBNA)was founded (as the British Nurses' Association) in December 1887, by Dr Bedford Fenwick, and his wife, Ethel Gordon Fenwick, former Matron of St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, with HRH Princess Christian, daughter of Queen Victoria, as its first President. There was considerable opposition to the Association, particularly from Florence Nightingale, who felt that it would destroy the 'vocational spirit' of nursing. The Association was renamed the RBNA in 1891 and received its Royal Charter in 1893. Dr and Mrs Fenwick took over the Nursing Record (started in 1888), in 1893 and renamed it the British Journal of Nursing in 1902. Mrs Fenwick and Isla Stewart (Matron of St Bartholomew's Hospital) founded the Matrons' Council of Great Britain and Ireland in 1894. The Society for the State Registration of Nurses was formed in 1902, with Ethel Fenwick as Secretary and Treasurer. The National Council of Trained Nurses of Great Britain and Ireland was established 1904, with Ethel Fenwick as President. Between 1906 and 1909 the RBNA drafted three Parliamentary bills on nurse registration. The Central Committee for the State Registration of Nurses was formed 1909 with Ethel Fenwick as joint honorary secretary. From 1910-1914 the Central Committee introduced annual Parliamentary bills on nurse registration. The College of Nursing (later Royal College of Nursing) was established 1916, and in 1917 there were inconclusive discussions on the possibility of a merger between the RBNA and the College. The Nurses' Registration Acts were passed in 1919. The General Nursing Council, chaired by Mrs Fenwick was established 1920. The British College of Nurses (BCN) was founded by Mrs Fenwick, 1926, with herself as President, and Dr Fenwick as Treasurer. In 1927 the College of Nursing applied for its Royal Charter, the application, opposed by the RBNA, was granted in 1928 and it was renamed the Royal College of Nursing in 1939. Bedford Fenwick died 1939 and Ethel Fenwick, 1947. The British College of Nurses closed in 1956.

Archival history

In 1995 the Association decided to make the archives fully available to the public. Cataloguing and extensive conservation work on the collection was made possible by two British Library Cataloguing and Preservation grants. With the passage of time, the original arrangement of the archives had disappeared and in the process of listing them it became necessary to find a way of presenting the collection which would be easy to follow without imposing on it a completely new structure. Although the subject groups which have been introduced are artificial, they were selected only because they emerged as natural and obvious ones.

Custodial history

Deposited by the RBNA, 2002

Conditions governing access

Open, subject to signature of Reader's undertaking form, and appropriate provision of two forms of identification, to include one photographic ID.

Conditions governing reproduction

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be supplied from open material for research purposes only.

Requests to publish original material should be submitted to the Archives.

Language of material

  • English

Script of material

Finding aids

This collection level description and draft list.

Related materials

Pioneering Nurses database of entries from the RBNA Roll of Nurses (1890-1932) at: <a href=""></a>. St Bartholomew's Hospital Archive holds papers of Ethel Fenwick (Mrs Bedford Fenwick), Ref GB 0405 X56.

Alternative identifier(s)

Genre access points

Rules and/or conventions used

Compiled in compliance with General International Standard Archival Description, ISAD(G), second edition, 2000.


Archivist's note

Compiled by Alan Kucia, based on detailed catalogue prepared by Richard Bowden in 1998, May 2003.

Accession area