Who was the first British woman State Registered Nurse?

ETHEL FENWICK 1857 – 1947

Through her work in the Crimean War and subsequently establishing her nursing school at St Thomas’ Hospital in London, Florence Nightingale, “the lady with the lamp”, is well known as the founder of modern nursing.

Mary Seacole also advanced the nursing profession with her work in Jamaica and the Crimea although her later years were spent in obscurity.

However, it was Ethel Fenwick who, in 1923, became the first state registered nurse (SRN).

Born in 1857, Ethel was the daughter of a doctor in Elgin, Scotland. She trained as a nurse and was well regarded for her skills and professionalism. Ethel nursed at the children’s hospital in Nottingham and at the infirmary in Manchester before, aged only twenty-four years, she was appointed Matron at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London.

Ethel was concerned that the status of nurses should be enhanced and that nurses’ training should be extended and standardised and she devoted her life to this cause.

In 1887 Ethel married Dr Bedford Fenwick, a consultant gynaecologist at the Women’s Hospital in Soho, London.

Ethel was one of the founders of the International Council of Nurses and in 1903 she became the editor of The British Journal of Nursing. She used the journal to campaign for the registration of nurses to ensure standards, qualifications and training.

Eventually, in 1919, Parliament passed the Registration of Nurses Act which established the General Nursing Council and required that a register of qualified nurses should be maintained.

Ethel Fenwick was the first nurse named in the new register making her the first state registered nurse.

Photo credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons