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Who Was Ethel Gordon Fenwick? The First Nurse

Who Was Ethel Gordon Fenwick? The First Nurse

December 2019 marks one hundred years since the introduction of the Nurses’ Registration Act – an Act which introduced a compulsory register for professional nurses. It was instrumental in both increasing patient safety and also in regulating and standardising the nursing profession.

This Act was the product of a long campaign led by Ethel Gordon Fenwick, a nurse and political campaigner who devoted over thirty years of her life to fight for the introduction of a nurses’ register.

Early life

Ethel Gordon Manson was born in Elgin in Scotland in 1857 but was raised in Thoroton, Nottinghamshire. She began her children’s nurse training at Nottingham Children’s Hospital in 1878 and went onto train as an adult nurse at the Manchester Royal Infirmary in 1879.

In 1881, at the age of just 24, she became the matron at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, one of the most influential and oldest in London. She remained the matron until 1887 when she had to leave her post because she married Dr Bedford Fenwick and became Mrs. Bedford Fenwick.

A matron at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the late 19th century.

The fight for registration

Following her marriage, Mrs Bedford Fenwick stopped practising as a nurse and began what would become a thirty-two year campaign for the introduction of a compulsory nurses’ register. This involved Mrs Bedford Fenwick and her fellow campaigners waging a political campaign at a time when women did not have the right to vote.

She devoted her life to fighting for a cause which she believed would advance the nursing profession. She founded the British Nurses’ Association (BNA) in 1887 (an organisation which acquired royal patronage and became the Royal British Nurses’ Association in 1893) and acquired and became the editor of The British Journal of Nursing in 1903. Both the RBNA and the journal were instrumental in her campaign for the introduction of the nurses’ registration.

The length of the campaign alone is indicative of the difficulty Fenwick and her fellow campaigners had in introducing a nurses’ register. The entire process was dogged by internal disagreements within the RBNA over registration, and between the RBNA, The Matrons’ Council for Great Britain and Ireland, and The College of Nursing.

Rival parliamentary bills were drafted by the RBNA and The Society for the State Registration of Nurses. Mrs Fenwick’s campaign also faced resistance from anti-registrationists such as Eva Luckes of The London Hospital, who appear to have had the tacit approval of Florence Nightingale.

At the same time, most Hospital Authorities and Boards of Governors were concerned that registered Nurses would be more costly than unregistered hospital staff. Despite this, the Act was finally passed in 1919 and Fenwick was the first to sign it becoming “State Registered Nurse No.1” in 1921.

The register was held initially by the General Nursing Council, which later became the United Kingdom Central Council and is now known as the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

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Why the Nurses’ Registration Act is important

The Act made registration compulsory for all nurses. Initially an aspiring nurse would have to be over the age of 21; be able to provide three references of good character and demonstrate that they had at least one years’ training and two years’ subsequent practice. For the first time the Nurses’ Registration Act introduced regulation to the nursing profession and set standards for practice that all nurses had to adhere to.

Before the Act was passed, anyone could call themselves a nurse irrespective of whether they had received any professional training. This unregulated system was problematic as it put both nurses and patients at risk.

When giving evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee in 1905, Mrs Fenwick provided one notable example of how an unregulated system allows bad nurses to practice. She told the story of one nurse who had tried to poison a Sister at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. Instead of being disciplined or tried in criminal court, the nurse was instead quietly dismissed and was able to find a new job at a nursing institute in Sheffield where she was accused of poisoning a patient.

Later, similar incidents occurred at the Manchester Royal Infirmary where the nurse transferred under a false name. The nurse was eventually interviewed by a committee and was dismissed but never prosecuted.

Mrs Fenwick believed that by standardising the nursing profession, the Nurses’ Registration Act would remove “bad nurses” and make health care safer for patients.

By setting standards, The Nurses’ Registration Act introduced professionalism to nursing, elevating it to the position of an exclusive learned profession and set training precedents which continues today.

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Other achievements

Alongside fighting for registration, Mrs Fenwick was a campaigner on the international stage. She was one of the founders of the International Council of Nurses in 1899. This organisation united nurses from across the world to advance the status of the profession internationally.

Mrs Fenwick was also a supporter of the suffrage movement and would frequently devote columns to the cause in the British Journal of Nursing whilst she was the editor. She enjoyed writing and in 1910 she was elected President of the Society of Women Journalists.

Ethel Gordon Fenwick’s legacy

Despite her important work and its long lasting legacy, Ethel Gordon Fenwick has sadly fallen into obscurity with few nurses remembering her work. Those who are aware of her achievements suggest that her contributions to nursing are as significant as Florence Nightingale’s.

The Lady with the Lamp. Popular lithograph reproduction of a painting of Nightingale by Henrietta Rae, 1891.

Unlike Nightingale who has been immortalised by statues in Westminster and Derby, Mrs Fenwick is far from being a household name and sadly her grave in Thoroton is in a state of disrepair.

As nurses celebrate the centenary of the introduction of the nurses’ register later this year, it is important to reflect on Mrs Fenwick’s significant contributions to the development of nursing as a
regulated profession.

The current nursing regulatory body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, defines standards and ensures nurses continue to meet these in their daily practice, a precedent which began with the
Nurses’ Registration Act.

James Shepherd is part of the Ethel Gordon Fenwick Commemorative Partnership, a group which seeks to raise the profile of the former nurse and political campaigner.

Ethel Gordon Fenwick: Nurse number one on the register

December 2019 marks the hundredth anniversary of the passage of the Nurses’ Registration Act, the legislation that introduced a nurse register and which irrevocably changed modern British nursing by introducing training and regulation standards that remain in place today.

A name that has become synonymous with the Nurses’ Registration Act is Ethel Gordon Fenwick, also known as Ethel Bedford Fenwick, who campaigned tirelessly with her supporters for over 30 years to ensure its passage. But who was she and what did she do?

Ethel Gordon Fenwick was born on 26 January 1857 in Elgin near Moray in Scotland to David Davidson Manson, a physician and farmer, and his wife Harriette. Following her father’s death in 1860, Ms Gordon Fenwick moved to Nottinghamshire where she grew up in Thoroton in the Vale of Belvoir.

She began her nursing career in 1878 when she was aged 21 at the Nottingham Children’s Hospital, before continuing her training for a further year at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

Having completed her training, Ms Gordon Fenwick moved to London where she worked in several hospitals before being appointed matron at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in 1881 at the age of 24.

Six years later in 1887, she stopped nursing following her marriage to Dr Bedford Fenwick and became focused entirely on her political campaign for the introduction of a nurses’ register. She believed that a register would allow nurses to develop a professional identity, improve patient care and protect nurses from being exploited via low pay and poor working conditions.

Serious discussions regarding the formation of a nurses’ register first began in 1887 at a meeting held by the Hospitals Association (HA), which consisted of a group of hospitals and was founded by financier and philanthropist Henry Burdett. During the meeting, Ms Gordon Fenwick clashed with the HA and in particular with Mr Burdett – whose name is also linked to the charity the Burdett Trust for Nursing.

She disagreed with the HA due to their support for a non-compulsory register, as she believed it would be nothing more than a list of names and have no real effect on the status of nursing. Fenwick formed a breakaway group that became the British Nurses' Association later in that year. The BNA would go on to campaign for the introduction of a compulsory nurses’ register.

Ms Gordon Fenwick was a formidable campaigner, and used both the BNA and the Nursing Record, which she acquired and began editing in 1893 (she later renamed it the British Journal of Nursing in 1903), as a mouthpiece for her campaign for registration.

She frequently clashed with those who were against registration. They were often members of hospital authorities but also included nurses such as Eva Luckes, matron at The London Hospital, who was staunchly opposed to the introduction of a nurses’ register.

The campaign for registration was also fraught with infighting and conflict, because different societies and campaign groups fought for different kinds of nursing registration.

In addition, registration faced opposition from hospital authorities who feared that state registered nurses would be more costly than non-registered hospital workers. They were also concerned about the level of independence and autonomy it would grant hospital nurses.

The late 19 th century had seen various disputes emerging between doctors and nurses over the position of the nurse in the hospital hierarchy. This opposition, combined with the infighting, was the main reason for the length of the campaign.

The first two bills which sought to introduce a nurses’ register were presented to parliament in 1903 and 1904, but both were unsuccessful. Several more were presented by various sides of the registration debate during the following decade but to no avail. It was a bill introduced to parliament by the then health minister, Dr Christopher Addison, which was ultimately passed in December 1919.

The register opened two years after the act came into being, with Ms Gordon Fenwick the first to sign it in 1921, therefore, becoming the first state registered nurse.

Alongside her commitments to UK nursing, Ms Gordon Fenwick also campaigned on the international stage to try and improve standards of nursing. In 1899 she was instrumental in the founding of the International Council of Nurses and served as its first president until 1904.

She sympathised with the non-militant arm of the suffragette movement and frequently wrote editorials supporting the cause during her time as editor of the British Journal of Nursing. She enjoyed writing and in 1910 was elected President of the Society of Women Journalists. She died on 13 th March 1947.

Despite the vital contributions of the Nurses’ Registration Act to the nursing profession, the name of Ethel Gordon Fenwick has since faded from public memory, with few being aware of the way in which she changed the nursing profession. Many of those who are aware of her contributions to modern nursing view them as being as significant as those of Florence Nightingale.

As part of the one hundredth anniversary of the passing of the Nurses’ Registration Act this year, it is important to celebrate Ethel Gordon Fenwick’s legacy and her significant role in the creation of the nursing profession.

Ethel Gordon Fenwick

This year (2019) marks the centenary of the Nurses Registration Act of 1919 which was only realised after a lengthy campaign. Ethel Gordon Fenwick nee Manson (1857-1947) was one of the leaders of this campaign and appears as Nurse Number 1 when the register opened in 1923. She played a major role in the history of nursing in the United Kingdom through her campaign to procure a nationally recognised certificate for nursing. Born in the Morayshire town of Elgin in Scotland, the daughter of a wealthy doctor who died before Ethel had turned one, the family moved to Nottinghamshire when her mother remarried. Her stepfather was George Storer (1814-1888), Member of Parliament for the South Nottinghamshire constituency. Ethel’s formative life was spent at Thoroton Hall, near Bingham in the Vale of Belvoir where the family resided.

Ethel’s stepfather, George was the son of Rev John Storer of Hawksworth, Notts and the grandson of John Storer a leading physician in Nottingham and one of the founders of the General Hospital, the Sneinton Asylum and the Vaccination Institution in the town. In 1816 he was involved in the setting up of the Bromley House Subscription Library.

At the age of 21 Ethel commenced nurse training at the Children’s Hospital in Nottingham as a paying practitioner, and in 1878 she left and relocated to Manchester Royal Infirmary. She then went to London where she worked in hospitals in Whitechapel and Richmond. In 1891 she was appointed Matron of St Bartholomew’s hospital, a post she held until 1887 when she resigned to marry Dr Bedford Fenwick with whom she had one son. Ethel was instrumental in establishing the International Council of Nurses in 1899 becoming their first president, she also owned and edited the British Journal of Nursing up until her death in 1947 and was a founder member of the British Nurses Association, now the Royal British Nurses Association. Ethel was also active in the campaign for women’s suffrage and during WW1 organised Nursing Corps for active duty in France. Ethel Gordon Fenwick’s ashes are interred in the family grave at St Helena’s Church, Thoroton.

Fenwick, Ethel Gordon (1857–1947)

Following nursing positions at Nottingham children's hospital and the London Hospital, Ethel Fenwick was appointed matron of St. Bartholemew's Hospital, a post she held for six years, until her marriage in 1887. That year, she led a group of nurses in the formation of the British Nurses' Association (BNA), of which she was president. The association sought to raise the standards of the profession by accepting nursing candidates exclusively from the higher social classes. After the BNA was granted a Royal Charter in 1893, Fenwick was deposed as president. In opposition, she and her husband would form the British College of Nurses in 1926.

Fenwick also started the Matrons' Council of Great Britain and Ireland, a group that lobbied Parliament for state registration of matrons (obtained in 1919). To aid her campaign efforts, Fenwick and her husband purchased The Nursing Record, later called The British Journal of Nursing. At the International Council of Women, which met in London in 1899, Fenwick and the Matron's Council organized the International Council of Nurses, the very first organization for health professionals.

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She was born Ethel Gordon Manson in Spynie, near the Morayshire town of Elgin in Scotland, the daughter of a wealthy farmer and doctor who died later the same year. Ώ] Ethel's mother then married George Storer, a Member of Parliament. She was educated privately at Middlethorpe Hall, Middlethorpe, Yorkshire. At the age of 21 she commenced nurse training at the Children's Hospital in Nottingham as a paying probationer nurse, and then at Manchester Royal Infirmary. Her expertise was soon noted and it was not long before she left for London, where she worked in hospitals in Whitechapel, and Richmond.

In 1881, at the age of 24, Ethel was appointed Matron of St Bartholomew's Hospital, a post she held until 1887 when she resigned her post to marry Dr Bedford Fenwick, becoming known professionally as Mrs Bedford Fenwick. ΐ]

She was the founder of the Royal British Nurses' Association in 1887. Α] She was instrumental in founding Florence Nightingale International Foundation, the premier foundation of the International Council of Nurses, and was its president for the first five years. She extended significantly the training period for nurses, and campaigned for the state registration of nurses in the United Kingdom. This was achieved through the Nurses Registration Act 1919, and Ethel Gordon Fenwick appears as "Nurse No. 1" when the register opened in 1923. (The Cape Colony had been the first to introduce nurse registration, in 1891 Β] ).

Ethel Fenwick acquired the Nursing Record in 1893 and became its editor in 1903. It was renamed The British Journal of Nursing and through its pages for the next 54 years her thinking and her beliefs are clearly revealed. She disagreed with Florence Nightingale and with Henry Burdett about registration of nurses. She believed that there was a need for training to a recognised standard and this meant confining entry to the profession to the daughters of the higher social classes. She opposed paying nurses in training, because it attracted the wrong sort of girl. She was very keen to see control over domiciliary nursing. Γ]

In 1927 she established the British College of Nurses with an endowment of £100,000 from a grateful patient of Dr Fenwick. She was president, and he was treasurer, for life.

In 1999 an English Heritage "blue plaque" was attached to her former home at 20 Upper Wimpole Street, London. Δ]

Content & structure

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

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

20th century


  • 1900 â€" Dame Agnes Gwendoline Hunt, the founder of orthopaedic nursing, opens a convalescent home for crippled children at Florence House in Baschurch which espouses the yet-unproven theory of open-air treatment.
  • 1901 â€" United States Army Nurse Corps (NC) is established
  • 1901 â€" New Zealand is the first country to regulate nurses nationally, with adoption of the Nurses Registration Act.
  • 1901 - State registration for nurses began in New Zealand.
  • 1902 - Ellen Dougherty of New Zealand becomes the first registered nurse in the world.
  • 1902 â€" New York City Board of Education hires Lina Rogers Struthers as North America's first school nurse.
  • 1902 â€" Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service replaces, by royal warrant, the Army Nursing Service.
  • 1903 - The Armstrong Act of 1903 is passed in New York, requiring registration of nurses.
  • 1905 â€" The Spanish-American War Nurses Memorial is erected at Arlington National Cemetery in the United States.
  • 1906 The first nursing school Union Mission Hospital Training School for Nurses/Iloilo Mission Hospital training school for Nurses, now Central Philippine Universityâ€"College of Nursing, is established in the Philippines.
  • 1906 â€" Severance School opens in Korea, the first of many training schools.
  • 1908 â€" The United States Navy Nurse Corps is established.
  • 1908 â€" The New Zealand Nurses Organisation's journal, Kai Tiaki was first published.
  • 1908 â€" Representatives of 16 organized nursing bodies meet in Ottawa to form the Canadian National Association of Trained Nurses, which will become the Canadian Nurses Association in 1911.
  • 1908 â€" Akenehi Hei registered as the first Maori nurse.
  • 1909 â€" The New Zealand Trained Nurses Association was established.
  • 1909 â€" The American Red Cross Nursing Service is formed.
  • 1909 â€" The University of Minnesota School of Nursing bestows the first bachelor's degree in nursing, setting a new standard in the training of nurses.


  • 1910 â€" Florence Nightingale dies on 13 August at the age of 90.
  • 1910 â€" Akenehi Hei, the first qualified Maori Nurse in New Zealand dies on November 28, 1910 after contracting typhoid from family members.
  • 1914 â€" New Zealand Nurses worked alongside the British, Australian, American and Canadian nurses in World War I.
  • 1915 â€" Edith Cavell is executed by a German firing squad on October 12 for helping hundreds of Allied soldiers escape to the Netherlands.
  • 1915 â€" The New Zealand Army Nursing Service set up in 1915, largely at the urging of Hester Maclean (1863â€"1932).
  • 1916 â€" The Royal College of Nursing is founded.
  • 1917 â€" Mrs. Annie Kamauoha is recognized as Hawaii's first graduate nurse from the Queen's Hospital Training School for Nurses. Her pin was designed by Queen Liliuokalani and was presented to her by the queen before the queen died later that year.
  • 1917 â€" Standardized curriculum established by the National League for Nursing Education.
  • 1918 â€" Lenah Higbee is awarded the Navy Cross for distinguished service in the line of her profession and unusual and conspicuous devotion to duty as superintendent of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps. She is the first living woman to receive this honor.
  • 1918 â€" Frances Reed Elliot is enrolled as the first Africanâ€"American in the American Red Cross Nursing Service on July 2.
  • 1918 â€" Viola Pettus, a legendary Africanâ€"American nurse in Texas, won fame for her courageous care of victims of the Spanish Influenza, including members of the Ku Klux Klan.
  • 1919 â€" The UK passes the Nursing Act of 1919, which provides for registration of nurses, but it will not become effective until 1923. The first name entered in the register as SRNÂ𧄁 was Ethel Gordon Fenwick.


  • 1921 â€" Sophie Mannerheim, a pioneer of modern nursing in Finland, accepts the chairmanship of the Finnish Red Cross.
  • 1922 â€" Filipino Nurses Association was founded.The FNA was admitted as member of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) in 1929.The FNA which was renamed Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) in 1962 continues to uphold its vision to uplift the ideals and spirit of the nursing profession in the country and to win for the profession the respect and recognition of the international community
  • 1923 â€" The Nursing Act of 1919 becomes effective and Ethel Gordon Fenwick is the first nurse registered in the UK.
  • 1923 â€" Yale School of Nursing becomes the first school of nursing to adopt the Rockefeller Commission recommendations for curriculum was based on an educational plan rather than on hospital service needs.
  • 1923 â€" Mary Breckinridge, the founder of the Frontier Nursing Service, travels 700 miles on horseback surveying the health needs of rural Kentuckians.
  • 1923 â€" The first Brazilian higher education institution of nursing, named after nursing pioneer Ana Néri, is launched in Rio de Janeiro by Carlos Chagas, aiming at implementing the "Nightingale model" nationwide.
  • 1925 â€" New Zealand attempted to have a nursing programme available at the University of Otago. (Crisp, Taylor, Douglas & Rebeiro, 2013)
  • 1926 â€" 20 July New Zealands's first sister was appointed by the board at Auckland hospital New Zealand.
  • 1929 â€" The Japanese Nursing Association is established.


  • 1931 â€" The Forgotten Frontier, a documentary about the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky, is filmed.
  • 1933 â€" Australian Capital Territory nursing registration commenced.
  • 1937 â€" Sister Elizabeth Kenny publishes her first book, Infantile Paralysis and Cerebral Diplegia: Method of Restoration of Function.
  • 1938 â€" The Nurses Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery is erected in Section 21 (the "Nurses Section") to honor nurses who served in the armed forces during World War I. Over 600 nurses are buried at Arlington.
  • 1939 â€" Registering of nursing aides commenced in New Zealand

World War II

  • 1939â€"1945 â€" Military and naval nurses from numerous countries serve outside their countries.
  • 1941â€"45 â€" Over 59,000 American women serve in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps
  • 1941â€"45 â€" Over 11,000 women serve in the United States Navy Nurse Corps
  • 1942 â€" Banka Island massacre: Twenty one Australian nurses, survivors of a bombed and sunken ship, are executed by bayonet or machine gun by Imperial Japanese Army soldiers on February 16.
  • Australian Army Medical Women's Service (AAMWS) operates 1942 until 1951. Its nurses serve in military hospitals in the Middle East, Australia and, with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, in Japan. In 1951, it merged into the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps


  • 1942 â€" Beveridge Report recommends comprehensive health care funded through National Insurance.
  • 1943 â€" Mary Elizabeth Lancaster (Carnegie) is appointed the acting director of the Division of Nursing Education at Hampton Institute in Hampton, Virginia. Through her direction the first baccalaureate nursing program in the Commonwealth of Virginia is created.
  • 1943 â€" The southern state of Delaware was the first to admit the African American nurses to membership as a state nurses.
  • 1944 â€" Ludwig Guttmanns Spinal Unit at Stoke Mandeville was formally opened on 1 February with one patient and twenty-six beds.
  • 1944 â€" The first baccalaureate nursing program in the Commonwealth of Virginia is created at the Hampton University School of Nursing.
  • 1948â€" The first baccalaureate nursing program in the State of Alabama is established at Tuskegee University under the leadership of Dr. Lillian H. Harvey, Dean.
  • 1948 â€" The National Health Service is launched on July 5.
  • 1949 â€" Mary Elizabeth Carnegie is the first black person elected to the board of the Florida Nurses Association with the right to speak and vote.
  • 1949 â€" Formation of College of Nursing Australia.


  • 1951 â€" The National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses merges with the American Nurses Association.
  • 1951 â€" Males join the United Kingdom same register of nurses as females for the first time.
  • 1951 â€" National Association for Practical Nurse Education and Service (NAPNES) along with professional nursing organizations and the U.S. Department of Education created Vocational Nursing standards for education and the LPN / LVN level of nursing was created in the United States.
  • 1952 â€" The introduction of sedatives transforms mental health nursing.
  • 1952 â€" Hildegard Peplau presents Interpersonal Relations Theory.
  • 1953 â€" The National Students Nurses' Association (NSNA) is established.
  • 1954 â€" One of the first PhD programs in nursing is offered at the University of Pittsburgh.
  • 1955 â€" Elizabeth Lipford Kent becomes the first African American to earn a PhD in nursing.
  • 1956 â€" The Columbia University School of Nursing is the first in the U.S. to grant a master's degree in a clinical nursing specialty.


  • 1960 - The first Neonatal Intensive Care Unit was established.
  • 1960 â€" The Nursing Studies department at the University of Edinburgh initiates the first degree in nursing.
  • 1963 â€" Ruby Bradley retires from the U.S. Army Nurse Corps with 34 medals and citations for bravery.
  • 1965 â€" The establishment of the first nurse practitioner (NP) role, developed jointly by a nurse educator and a physician at the University of Colorado.
  • 1965 â€" A Japanese court rules on the regulation regarding night shifts of nurses, limiting them to 8 days a month and banning single-person night shifts altogether.
  • 1966 â€" The Filipino Nurses Association was renamed as The Philippine Nurses Association
  • 1967 â€" The Salmon Report recommends the reorganisation of the NHS management, ultimately leading to the abolishment of matrons
  • 1967 â€" Termination of pregnancy becomes legal in the United Kingdom under the Abortion Act 1967.
  • 1967 â€" Dame Cicely Saunders sets up the first hospice in a suburb of London.
  • 1967 â€" New Zealand nursing undergo changes from being hospital-based apprentiships to tertiary education institutions.
  • 1969 â€" Dame Cicely Saunders is guest speaker at Yale University at the invitation of Florence Wald, dean of Yale School of Nursing.


  • 1971 â€" The Carpenter report was released, this was a review released by New Zealand centered around the nursing education system, the report advocated training nurses in an educational environment. The government however decided that polytechs not universities were more appropriate for this, however the consequences of this were that nurses were only diploma level not degree level.
  • 1973 â€" Christchurch and Wellington Polytechnics offer diploma-level nursing education Massey and Victoria Universities (Wellington) start their post-registration bachelor's degrees.
  • 1974 â€" Yale Nursing School dean Florence Wald et al. found Connecticut Hospice, launching the hospice movement in the U.S.
  • 1974 â€" The classic definition of health which has endured for many years, was actually provided by the World Health Organization.
  • 1975 â€" First nursing diploma program in Australia in a College of Advanced Education (CAE) in Melbourne, followed quickly by programs in New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia.
  • 1976 â€" The first master's degree program in nursing for a historically Black College or University (HBCU) founded at Hampton University School of Nursing.
  • 1976 â€" The Nurses' Health Study began
  • 1976 â€" Roy Adaptation Theory published, Sister Callista Roy nursing theorist
  • 1977 â€" The M. Elizabeth Carnegie Nursing Archives is created by Dr. Patricia E. Sloan at the Hampton University School of Nursing. This is the only repository for memorabilia on minority nurses in the United States. The focus of the archives is African American nurses.
  • 1978 â€" Estelle Massey Osborne becomes the first black nurse to be inducted as honorary fellow in the American Academy of Nursing.
  • 1978 â€" Barbara Nichols is the first black nurse to be elected president of the American Nurses Association.
  • 1978 â€" Elizabeth Carnegie is the first black to be elected president of the American Academy of Nursing.
  • 1979 â€" The first iteration of a clinical doctorate, a nursing doctorate (ND), was established at Case Western Reserve University.
  • 1979 â€" Dr Watson's first book published, based on her theory of caring.


  • 1980s â€" In the U.S. the MSN degree became the required degree for advanced practice nurse certification. Nurse Practitioners with certificates were grandfathered in. The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) first required a master's degree in order to sit for the boards in 1999.
  • 1980 â€" Viola Davis Brown of Kentucky is the first African American nurse to lead a state office of public health nursing in the United States
  • 1980 â€" The Roper, Logan and Tierney model of nursing, based upon the activities of daily living, is published.
  • 1982 â€" Florence Nightingale Trust was created where they had Florence Nightingales letters, artifacts and publications made viewable to the public and protected at the 'Florence Nightingale Museum'.
  • 1983 â€" The importance of human rights in nursing is made explicit in a statement adopted by the International Council of Nurses.
  • 1983 â€" UKCC becomes the profession's new regulatory body in the UK.
  • 1984 â€" Under the Australian federal government plan, tertiary education for all Australian nurses was adopted.
  • 1985 â€" Miss Virginia Henderson is presented with the first Christianne Reimann Prize by the International Council of Nurses in June.
  • 1988 â€" Anne Casey develops her child-centered nursing model while working as a paediatric oncology nurse in London.
  • 1989 â€" Nurses' Health Study 2 begins.


  • 1990 â€" Florence Nightingale's birthday (May 12) is declared the official Nursing Day in Japan.
  • 1992 â€" Eddie Bernice Johnson is the first nurse elected to the U.S. Congress.
  • 1993 â€" After reforms in 1993, nursing education in Sweden is changing from vocational training to academic education.
  • 1999 â€" Elnora D. Daniel is the first black nurse elected president of a major university, Chicago State University.
  • 1999 â€" The first doctor of philosophy degree program in nursing for a Historically Black College or University (HBCU) is founded at Hampton University School of Nursing. This doctoral program is unique in that it is the only doctoral program in the country that focuses on family and family-related nursing research.
  • 1999 â€"

I define caring as a "nurturing way of relating to a valued 'other' toward whom one feels a personal sense of commitment and responsibility"

Campaigning nurse and first SRN recognised at special service in Thoroton church

A celebration of the life and work of the first ever State Registered Nurse was attended by the Dean of Southwell, a former nurse and midwife, and senior nursing professionals from around the UK.

Ethel Bedford Fenwick (1857-1947) spent her formative years at Thoroton Hall in Nottinghamshire and is buried at St Helena’s church, where the service was held on Sunday afternoon. Her great granddaughter, Harriette travelled to the church especially for the occasion.

Ethel campaigned for over 30 years for the establishment of a register for nurses. She was a committed suffragist and agent for change, including the system of three years training for registered nurses and good working conditions.

The Rev’d Bryony Wood said: “We saw a real miracle of transformation this week in Thoroton church when a small army of people worked so hard to restore the church to its original beauty. Last week it was still a full of building rubble after months of significant structural work and on Sunday 12 th March it was restored to its full glory, filled with beautiful flowers, a superb afternoon tea and lots of people! The sun shone in through the stained glass windows including the one installed by Ethel and her family in memory of their parents. We laid a fresh bouquet of purple white and green on her grave in her memory and filled the church with those, her favourite colours. We were thrilled that Ethel’s great granddaughter travelled to join us and so many senior figures from the nursing world who took the time and trouble to come to the service. They travelled from across the country and together we celebrated the life and legacy of Ethel Gordon Fenwick and the care and compassion of nurses everywhere today.”

The Dean, the Very Revd Nicola Sullivan, commented: “As a Bart’s trained nurse, I felt so proud to be part of Sunday’s special service. In Ethel Bedford Fenwick we have celebrated an inspirational nurse who was doggedly determined to effect change for the better. Although it is nearly 25 years since I left nursing and midwifery to begin ordination training, I have always been thankful for my professional background, and those amazing pioneer women who fought for proper training, regulation and the highest of care standards.”

Pictured at the service are:

  1. The Revd Bryony Wood, vicar of the Cranmer group of churches with Harriotte Dottridge, Ethel Bedford Fenwick’s Great Granddaughter.
  2. Mrs Esther Sheardown and Mrs Margret Palmer who are residents of Thoroton and who both remember Ethel’s funeral 70 years ago.
  3. Helen Wordsworth, a Baptist minister, from Parish Nursing UK – the organisation that received half of the offering.

Group Photo 4) shows :The Dean of Southwell Ethel’ granddaughter, Harriette Dottridge Helen Wordsworth from PARISH NURSING UK The Revd Bryony Wood Professor Anne Marie Rafferty, Professor of Nursing Policy Florence Nightingale Faculty of Nursing and Midwifery, King’s College, London Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC) for Research and Knowledge Exchange Liz Howard Thornton, Clinical Nurse Specialist Team Leader at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHSFT Professor Christine Hallett, Prof Nursing History at University of Manchester and Chair of UK Assoc of History of nursing Professor Elizabeth Fradd DBE, Deputy Lieutenant for Nottinghamshire.

Ali Harvey, Maggie Nichol and Diana Sherlaw, Exec committee members from League of Nurses of St Bart’s Sheila Marriott, Director of the Royal College of Nursing in the East Midlands.

Photos: Brian Pickering

The Church of England across Nottinghamshire

Growing Disciples Wider Younger Deeper

The Southwell & Nottingham Diocesan Synod and Board of Finance. A charitable company limited by guarantee: Company No 34165 England, Charity No 249359
Copyright 2013 Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham

Life and legacy of first State Registered Nurse to be celebrated at Thoroton

Nursing owes a great deal to the life and work of Ethel Bedford Fenwick, the first ever State Registered Nurse, whose legacy is being celebrated in a special service at St Helena’s Church, Thoroton, Nottinghamshire on Sunday 12th March at 2.30pm.

The name of Ethel Bedford Fenwick is inextricably linked with the development of nursing as a profession. She campaigned for over thirty years, from 1887 to 1919 for the establishment of a register for nurses. Born Ethel Gordon Manson in January 1857, at Spymie House, Morayshire, Scotland, she grew up to be a spirited, highly intelligent and very determined woman, and became an ardent suffragist.

The Revd Bryony Wood, vicar at St Helena’s (which is part of the Cranmer Group of churches) says: “I’m so pleased we can mark the life and legacy of this formidable lady here in Thoroton where she spent her formative years and is laid to rest. She was a real pioneer and agent for change. I’m delighted too that this gives us a chance to celebrate the wider vocation of nursing today. Virtually all of us will experience the care and compassion of professional nurses so we all benefit from the role that Ethel played and her passion for nursing.”

Senior nursing professionals will be attending as well as representatives from local nursing and parishioners from the surrounding villages. Ethel’s contribution to nursing and the forthcoming service has been mentioned in Melanie Reid’s column in The Times, commenting on how ‘she makes Florence Nightingale – who opposed nursing registration – look like a lightweight.’

Anne Marie Rafferty CBE DPhil (Oxon) RN FRCN FAAN, Professor of Nursing Policy at Kings College, London is travelling up from London on Sunday for the service.

Liz Howard-Thornton has been a registered nurse for over 30 years and a member of the Royal College of Nursing, History of Nursing Society. She is also attending Thoroton Church on Sunday morning, in her quest to follow up her interest in the early nursing history within the UK, specifically in relation to Ethel Gordon Fenwick.

She says: “The Nursing Register will be 100 years old on The 23rd December 2019 – and it is in my opinion mainly thanks to Ethel that we have this and also our current system of three years training for registered nurses, plus good working conditions – she pioneered all of that!”

This month marks the 70 th anniversary of her death. Ethel Bedford Fenwick died in March 1947 having campaigned all her life for the recognition and regulation of nurses. Only four years prior to her death she was seen frequently in parliament lobbying against the introduction of a Nurses’ Roll. One of her great principles was that there should be no compromise in nursing education: there must be one portal of entry to the profession, and no two-tier system. A woman of great energy, drive and determination, she antagonised many even as she inspired others. Yet her legacy to the nursing profession – and in particular her work in securing state registration – was incalculable.

See link to a photo which is thought to show Ethel leading the pageant of Nurses and Midwives in 1909

For more information regarding the service at St Helena’s please contact the Revd Bryony Wood : [email protected]

Photos show : The Revd Bryony Wood with Church Warden, Nick Finlay by Ethel’s grave at St Helena’s Details from the headstone Thoroton Hall, where Ethel spent much of her childhood.

Mrs Esther Sheardown, church warden at Thoroton Church, remembers the day of Ethel’s funeral. She says, “As a child, I think I was about 11, my father told me that there was to be a funeral of a very important nurse happening in our village and as he knew I wanted to be a nurse one day I should go along. But I was a child and didn’t want to go to a fusty old funeral of someone I didn’t know! In those days village people stood in the streets as the funeral procession went by. This was a very grand affair and my father told me afterwards about the black horses and the carriage that went by. So I missed it, which I do regret now”.

Esther did fulfil her dreams and trained as a nurse, a midwife and a health visitor. She subsequently met one of Ethel’s grandsons who told her that ‘Ethel was a feisty lady, very strong and that she loved purple and was a suffragette too.’

Esther was also told that ‘Because Ethel’s husband had been a doctor to the royal family, when she died they chose to destroy all records to keep the confidentiality of his work among the royals so that is one reason why there was so little written and recorded about Ethel and her life.’

The Church of England across Nottinghamshire

Growing Disciples Wider Younger Deeper

The Southwell & Nottingham Diocesan Synod and Board of Finance. A charitable company limited by guarantee: Company No 34165 England, Charity No 249359
Copyright 2013 Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham

1922 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fenwick, Ethel Gordon

FENWICK, ETHEL GORDON [ Mrs. Bedford Fenwick ] (1857- ⁠ ), British nurse, was born at Spynie House, Morayshire, Jan. 26 1857. She was educated privately, and in 1878 entered the Children's hospital at Nottingham to be trained as a nurse. After a short time at the Royal Infirmary, Manchester, she became a sister at the London hospital (1878-81), and in 1881 was appointed matron of St. Bartholomew's hospital. In 1887 she married Dr. Bedford Fenwick (b. 1855), the well-known gynaecologist, and henceforth devoted herself largely to the work of reorganizing and raising the status of the nursing profession. From 1889 to 1896 she was managing directress of the Gordon House Home hospital, and in 1887 founded the British Nurses' Association, of which she was the first member. Mrs. Bedford Fenwick has been a member of many medical and nursing congresses and has also contributed many papers to medical journals. She became in 1893 editor of the British Journal of Nursing, and was a prominent member of the Society of Women Journalists.

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