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Refurbished headstone unveiled for RCN founder

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A refurbished headstone has been unveiled for the grave of the Royal College of Nursing’s founder member and first president Dame Sidney Brown.

As part of the RCN’s centenary celebrations last year, Cheltenham Borough Council was asked to co-ordinate a commemoration for the college’s first president who is buried in the town’s cemetery.

“Dame Sidney Browne was an extraordinary woman and nurse”

Chris Ryder

The refurbished headstone and a border of winter foliage to complement the graveside was formerly unveiled on 16 December by Cheltenham’s mayor Chris Ryder.

The RCN’s current president, Cecilia Anim, also laid a wreath at the event, which brought to a close the college’s centenary celebrations.

Ms Brown campaigned alongside Sarah Swift and Arthur Stanley for a national organisation to be established to ensure a standardised nursing curriculum and a register of qualified nurses. The result was the founding of the College of Nursing in 1916, which subsequently became the RCN in 1928.

A well-respected nurse, Ms Browne’s career spanned 23 years during which she worked in all the key military hospitals of the era, at home and abroad, and served in three military campaigns.

For serving in the Egyptian War and Sudan campaign, she was awarded with the Khedive’s Star, Egyptian Medal and Bar, followed by the Royal Red Cross for service in South Africa. In 1918, Ms Browne was appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire.

Four years later in 1922, she became the first president of the council of the College of Nursing. She held the post of president until 1925.

She retired to Cheltenham in 1927, and retained a keen interest in nursing, particularly the welfare and progress of the military services. She died on 13 August 1941.

“Throughout the remainder of her life she maintained a great interest in nursing matters”

Jeannett Martin

Ms Ryder said: “Dame Sidney Browne was an extraordinary woman and nurse. I’m delighted to unveil her restored headstone and commemorate her life and accomplishments at her final resting place in Cheltenham and to also pay tribute to the RCN for their great work.”

Ms Anim added: “The role of RCN president is one steeped in history, and it is an honour to pay tribute to Dame Sidney Browne, the first person to hold the office.

“Dame Sidney was a nursing visionary,” she said. “The work of the RCN today is only possible because of the determination and dedication she and her founding colleagues showed 100 years ago.

“Through these events we preserve her memory and reaffirm our commitment to supporting nurses and nursing for the next century and beyond,” she said.

RCN South West regional director Jeannett Martin added: “Dame Sidney moved to Cheltenham in her retirement and throughout the remainder of her life she maintained a great interest in nursing matters, particularly the welfare and progress of the military services. 

”She laid the foundations for the RCN, an organisation that today supports around 435,000 nurses, healthcare assistants, nursing students and midwives across the UK,” she said.

Dame Sidney Jane Browne, GBE, RRC (born 5 January 1850 and died in 1941)

She was the first appointed matron-in-chief of the newly formed Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service. After she retired from the QAIMNS – later known as the QARANC – she was appointed as matron-in-chief of the Tribute Fund for Nurses. She was appointed a Dame Grand Cross of the Military Division of the Order of the British Empire in 1918.

In 1922 she became the first president of the College of Nursing, which subsequently became the RCN. During the 10 years of active work, Dame Sidney gave to the profession after the war, she was awarded all the tributes due to an elder statesman, the Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, the freedom of her town, an honorary degree, the office of president of the College of Nursing, and the Royal Red Cross Medal.

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