Ethel Gordon Fenwick campaigned for over 30 years for nurse registration which gave legal recognition to the title nurse.

During this time she faced considerable opposition. Writing in the British Journal of Nursing a few weeks after the Nurses Registration Act (1919)was passed, Ethel reflected on the implications of this opposition on the development of professional nursing:

“We must not forget the lamentable attitude of the managers of Training Schools and others in opposing all reform by state aid for thirty years, nor the apathy and lack or public spirit exhibited by succeeding generations of nurses during that time. Had hospital managers and certificated nurses responded to a sense of public and professional duty thirty years ago, the profession of nursing would by now be a highly-skilled, well-disciplined, and well-remunerated body; as it is, abuses have multiplied, and although the act lays sound foundations upon which to build, the whole superstructure of professional organisation must be built up”.

Source Fenwick, E. (Mrs Bedford) (ed.) (1920) The Nurses Registration Act. The British Journal of Nursing. 10 January 1920. 1658; (LXlV).

The timeline below catalogues the significant events  that have happened since the Nurses Registration Act was passed. I think Ethel would be proud of how far nursing has come.

This timeline is reproduced with permission of the Nursing and Midwifery Council.

YearMilestoneWhat happened
1919The Nurses Registration ActThe Nurses Registration Act is passed in Parliament on
23 December.
(GNC) for England and
Wales is
set up
The General Nursing Council (GNC) for England and
Wales is set up, along with one for Scotland and one for
Ireland. Council members are selected by the Minister for Health.
becomes the first nurse registered in theUK
After 30 years of campaigning for the state registration of nurses, Ethel Fenwick becomes the first nurse
registered in the UK. She’s issued with badge number
one, containing an image of Hygeia – the Roman goddess
of health. Male nurses are kept on a separate register
from women.
1923Council establishedThe first elected council members are chosen.
1939Second World WarThe start of the Second World War. The need for more
nurses, especially in the armed forces leads to an increase
in pay.
1948NHS foundedThe National Health Service (NHS) is founded on 5 July.
Nurses Act
The Nurses Act is passed to establish a framework for
nursing within the NHS. This includes accepting nurses
from overseas for registration.
1951One registerFemale and male nurses appear on the same register for
the first time.
1950-1959Nurses from abroadNurses trained abroad are registered for the first time.
Many of them are from British colonies or former colonies, especially in the Caribbean.
1960Degree accreditationThe University of Edinburgh offers the first degree course
in nursing in the UK.
1966Salmon reportThe Salmon Report calls for the development of senior
nursing staff and reform to nurse grading, leading to the
end of matrons.
1979ModernisationThe Nurses, Midwives and Health Visitors Act is
introduced, which leads to the creation of national boards for education and modernisation of the regulatory
1983UKCC establishedThe United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing,
Midwifery and Health Visiting (UKCC) replaces
the GNC.
The GNC’s funds move to trusts dedicated to
nursing education and driving standards of care. Those
trusts still exist today.
2002The NMC is establishedThe Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) replaces the UKCC on 1 April.
2010Education standardsNMC first publishes its standards for pre-registration
2015The CodeA revised version of the NMC Code is published to reflect
the introduction of revalidation.
2016RevalidationThe first nurses and midwives revalidate to reflect on their practice and how the Code applies

their day-today work.
The Nursing and Midwifery Council publishes ambitious
new standards for educating the nurses of the future
First nursing associates appear on the register on 28
2020The year of the
and midwife
Throughout 2020 we will be celebrating with others across the health and care sector.