Ethel Gordon Fenwick

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Ethel Gordon Fenwick
Ethel Gordon Fenwick.jpg
Ethel Gordon Manson

(1857-01-26)26 January 1857
Died13 March 1947(1947-03-13) (aged 90)
Known forPresident of the International Council of Nurses

Ethel Gordon Fenwick (née Manson; 26 January 1857 – 13 March 1947) was a British nurse who played a major role in the History of Nursing in the United Kingdom. She campaigned to procure a nationally recognised certificate for nursing, to safeguard the title "Nurse", and lobbied Parliament to pass a law to control nursing and limit it to "registered" nurses only.


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.[1] 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.[2]

Former residence of Ethel Gordon Fenwick with blue plaque

She was the founder of the Royal British Nurses' Association in 1887.[3] 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[4]).

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.[5]

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.[6]


  1. ^ National Records of Scotland, birth ref. 136/18/6 and death ref. 136/28/10.
  2. ^ Hector, Winifred (1973). The Work of Mrs. Bedford Fenwick and the Rise of Professional Nursing. London: Royal College of Nursing.
  3. ^ "The Origins of The Royal British Nurses' Association". Royal British Nurses Association. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  4. ^ South African Nursing Council, Structure and Functioning, p. 1.
  5. ^ Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). A History of the Nursing Profession. London: Heinemann. p. 64.
  6. ^ Plaques of London: Ethel Gordon Fenwick


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