The Royal British Nurses' Association was established in 1887 by Mrs Gordon Fenwick, ex matron of St Bartholomew's Hospital, and a group of supporters, to promote the registration of nurses in Great Britain. For a short time it was the key platform for nurse reformers who believed their profession should be organised along national lines, with centrally recognised qualifications and standardised training schemes. They faced stiff opposition from doctors, hospital managers and many nurses, and nursing had to wait until the formation of General Nursing Council and the passing of the Nurse Registration act in 1919 before such aspirations were achieved.
From its inception, the RBNA kept a register of members who had to apply to join and who whose suitability to be a member was assessed by the Membership Committee. The register includes details of the nurse's training and subsequent career, being kept up to date by adding information to the woman's entry whenever she changed address.
The RBNA also kept a register of supporters, who were not necessarily nurses but people who supported its work. This register is also to be transcribed, as is a third, smaller midwifery register.
The project was conducted in collaboration with King's College Archive which has care of the registers, and which conducted a small pilot to transcribe the first 1,000 entries in the Nurses' Register. The results of this work are available via a dedicated site, Pioneering Nurses. The new project continued this work to create a database of nurses, supporters and midwifery-trained nurses up to 1932. In total, the combined databases contained approximiately 15,000 entries. It is hoped that the resulting resource will be invaluable to historians of nursing interested in studying career development and the surprising mobility of nurses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; but it will also facilitate access to a valuable resource for family historians who wish to trace their nursing ancestors.