Constitution of the Royal College of Nursing

Scope and Content

This collection contains papers relating to the establishment, purpose and objections to the establishment of a College of Nursing. Official papers (Memoranda of Articles of Association, Petition, Royal Charter and By-laws etc) describing the College's official status, remit, rules and amendments to these. Correspondence (mainly belonging to Sir Arthur Stanley as Company Secretary) relating to the formation and running of the early College between 1915-1928.

Administrative / Biographical History

The College of Nursing Ltd was established in 1916 by Sir Arthur Stanley and Dame Sarah Swift. Papers re the establishment go back to the 1890s. The RCN HQ has been at 7 Henrietta Street, 1 Henrietta Place/20 Cavendish Square and temporarily at 194 Euston Road (1999-2001) since 1916. Other offices include Scottish Board; Northern Irish Board; Welsh Board; several regional offices throughout Scotland, England and Wales; Membership Records and RCN Direct in Cardiff.

The College was granted a Charter in 1928, becoming 'The College of Nursing' and in 1939 George IV granted the use of 'Royal'. The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) exists to promote the interests of nurses, healthcare workers and the nursing profession by working with the government, other professional organisations, trade unions and voluntary organisations. The RCN campaigns for the profession, promotes research, quality and practice developments and standards of care and provides higher education. It also represented UK nursing at European and international levels including at the International Council of Nurses (ICN) until 2014.

The RCN is a membership organisation. Services for members include: legal representation and professional indemnity insurance; employment advice and support at work; education, professional development and lifelong learning; research, policy consultation and clinical advice; counselling and personal advice services; immigration and overseas work advice; support and activities for students; specialist membership groups and networking; free publications on nursing, health care and employment issues; library, information & research facilities and financial services; events and conferences and a helpline.

[RCN Archives 2014]

Memorandum and Articles of Association

College of Nursing Ltd was incorporated as a limited company on 27 March 1916. The memorandum of association sets out the purpose of the company and the articles of association provide rules about how it is run. The memorandum details the objects of the company starting with:

" To promote the better education and training of nurses

" To promote uniformity of curriculum in the training of persons intended for the nursing profession

" To recognise approved nursing schools

" To grant certificates of proficiency in nursing to persons who may pass prescribed examinations after training and to grant certificates of training and proficiency in nursing to persons who have been trained in recognised nursing schools and have passed such examinations as the College or its Council consider sufficient. Provided that the College shall not grant or profess to grant titles or diplomas

" To make and maintain a register of persons to whom certificates of proficiency or of training and proficiency have been granted by the College

Much of this work became the designated role of the new General Nursing Councils when they were established by the government during 1921 and so going forward the College needed to refocus on other roles.

Other significant roles described by the original memorandum include:

" To promote the advancement of nursing as a profession in all or any of its branches…

" To establish, print and publish a newspaper, journal or magazine…


At the 1926 AGM members voted unanimously to apply for a Royal Charter. A petition was prepared based on the Memorandum and Articles of Association. The preamble of the charter petition stated...the incorporation under (our) Royal Charter of the proposed corporation will be for the public advantage and will tend to the advancement of the science and art of nursing and further to improve the education of nurses in the said science and art.

Council had presented its case stressing the educational programme of the College and its record in this field, namely the establishment of post graduate courses for nurses, participation in the Diploma in Nursing with the University of London, granting scholarships and recognition as a training centre for health visitors.

The original Charter picks up the threads of the memorandum and reforms the work of the College around these main objectives under Article II part B:

a) To promote the science and art of nursing and the better education and training of nurses and their efficiency in the profession of nursing

b) To promote the advance of nursing as a profession in all or any of its branches

c) To assist nurses who by reason of adversity, ill-health or otherwise are in need of assistance of any nature

Unlike the Articles of Association, the charter gave power to grant diplomas as well as certificates. Queen Mary became the first patron of the College and membership was restricted to nurses on the General Part of the State Register. As a chartered society the council could make or obtain loans without sanction of a General Meeting. Members of the council had a personal responsibility if they acted outside the charter.

The draft charter and petition were approved by the membership at an EGM in December 1926. In January 1927 the petition was forwarded to the Privy Council who approved the grant of the Charter on the 13 June 1928. The membership authorised the council to accept the charter at the AGM on 28 June 1928. The charter was granted and sealed by His Majesty George V on 28 July 1928. The final General Meeting of the College of Nursing Ltd was held on 19 June 1929 and the new Royal College took over all its business from then.

The College's founders and supporters had high ideals. There were obvious advantages to having a Charter rather than being a limited company, but overall a Royal College would be more prestigious and influential for nursing and the College's membership. It equated nursing with the other healthcare Royal Colleges (the Midwives Institute didn't follow until 1941). Our Charter sets out the criteria and subscriptions for membership of the College, the make-up and powers of Council, the position of President, the Royal Patron, how meetings are to be run and decisions or resolutions made, how the boards are run, a great deal of financial and investment regulation and the first bye-laws regarding protocols used at meetings for voting etc. It also requires that a record be kept of all decisions.

We still have the first two purposes under section 3. Objects, but the rest have been altered to the current version passed in March 2012:

The College shall pursue the following Objects in the Area of Activity (other than object 3.5)

3.1 To promote the science and art of nursing and the better education and training of nurses and their efficiency in the profession of nursing

3.2 To promote the advance of nursing as a profession in all or any of its branches

3.3 To promote the professional standing and interests of Members

3.4 To assist Members who by reason of adversity, ill-health or otherwise are in need of assistance of any nature

3.5 To promote through the medium of international agencies and otherwise the foregoing purposes in other countries as well as in [Our] United Kingdom.

Altering the provisions of the charter require the approval of the Privy Council, the amendments having first been passed at two council meetings and confirmed by the membership at a General Meeting. Changing it is hard work and not undertaken lightly as it underpins what we do as a Royal College and a professional association reflecting the views of our membership. Sometimes the changes were so radical it required a supplemental charter to be created in addition to the original charter. In May 1963 organisational matters were transferred to the bye-laws leaving the charter to deal with the constitution of the College. This made the charter shorter and clearer and the bye-laws more detailed. The bye-laws can be changed more easily in response to new legislation.

Worthy alterations to the Charter over the years included:

" Royal added to name in 1939.

" Widening the membership to include male nurses 1960, student nurses 1968, enrolled nurses 1970 (later health care assistants).

" Amalgamation with National Council of Nurses giving us an international role and ICN vote in 1963.

" RCN restructure required supplemental charter in 1979.

" Constitution of Council e.g. Student member 1980.

" Subscription changes and altering membership categories.

" Restructuring the RCN to include national and regional boards.

It should also be noted that our trade union status does not conflict with the purpose of a Royal Charter in the way that the original

Articles of Association would have. In July 1976 the council voted unanimously that the College should seek certification as an industrial trade union. This required two alterations to the charter which were put to the Annual General Meeting in November 1976. The first resolution added a new purpose to the charter…

" To promote the professional standing and interests of members of the nursing profession

" The second resolution confirmed the charitable status of the College.

Both resolutions were adopted by the meeting and received royal approval in February 1977. Our membership did not approve TUC affiliation which would have involved not registering under new union laws and the approval of strike action. Since registration as a trade union, we have had a set of rules that come largely from trade union regulations which work alongside the bye laws as set out with the original charter.

Section 4. Powers in the current Charter starts with our trade union registration but still include elements from the original Charter relating to education.

4.6 To institute and conduct examinations in all branches of work conductive to the efficient conduct of the nursing profession and grant certificates, diplomas and degrees to those who satisfy the requirements laid down by Council

4.7 To make such arrangements with any university or other educational institution as may from time to time be considered desirable for association with or admission as a school or college of such a university or other institution

The next two are slightly newer.

4.8 To promote, encourage, carry out, commission and publish research, surveys, studies and other work

4.9 To publish books, pamphlets reports, leaflets, journals, films, tapes, and instructional and informational matter on any media

Pointing out that education was the main reason we achieved a Charter and it is still an integral part of that document.

[RCN Archives, FB 2012]

Useful sources:


'The Lamp and the Book' Gerald Bowman (Heinemann 1966)

'Battle of the Nurses' Susan McGann (Scutari Press 1992)

'A Voice for Nurses: A history of the Royal College of Nursing 1916-1989', Anne Crowther, Susan McGann, Rona Dougal (Manchester University Press 2009)



Conditions Governing Access

This collection is available for research. Readers are advised to contact the RCN Archives in advance of their first visit.

Other Finding Aids

Most recent online Royal College of Nursing Archives Catalogue is available at Most recent online Royal College of Nursing Archives Catalogue is available at

Conditions Governing Use

Royal College of Nursing


This will be added to occasionally in the future as appropriate, for example if there are Charter amendments.


For more information about the Royal College of Nursing past and present see http:\\ Publications about the RCN include: 'The Lamp and the Book' Gerald Bowman (Heinemann 1966); 'Battle of the Nurses' Susan McGann (Scutari Press 1992);'A Voice for Nurses: A history of the Royal College of Nursing 1916-1989', Anne Crowther, Susan McGann, Rona Dougal (Manchester University Press 2009).