History of the RSM

The origins of the Royal Society of Medicine date back to the 18th century when, throughout Europe medical societies began to be founded with the object of bringing together physicians and surgeons in order to further scientific, professional and social communication.

The first general medical society of note in England was the Medical Society of London, founded in 1773.

The formation of the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London

In 1786, Dr James Sims was elected President of the Medical Society of London. He was a forceful and autocratic personality and held on to his presidential office for 22 years.

Many Members of the Medical Society were so offended by Sims' high-handed tactics that 26 of them met at the Freemasons' Tavern, Great Queen Street on 22 May 1805 and resolved to form themselves into a new medical society, The Medical and Chirurgical Society of London. This society was destined to be the progenitor of the Royal Society of Medicine.

The Medical and Chirurgical Society of London

The Medical and Chirurgical Society of London was founded 'for the purpose of conversation on professional subjects, for the reception of communications and for the formation of a library' and served 'several branches of the medical profession'.

Dr William Saunders
Dr William Saunders

The leading light among this dissenting group was Sir William Saunders FRCP (1743-1817), who was elected first President of the Medical and Chirurgical Society.

Other founding Members included Dr John Yelloly MD FRS (1774-1842), one of the first pair of Honorary Secretaries, Sir Astley Paston Cooper Bt FRCS (1768-1841), the first Treasurer, and
Dr Alexander Marcet MD FRS (1770-1822), the first Foreign Secretary.

Trustees have included Mr John Abernethy FRCS (1764-1831) and Dr Mathew Baillie FRCP (1761-1823).

In 1809, Dr Peter Mark Roget (1779-1869), of Roget’s Thesaurus fame, became responsible for the Society’s Library and was made President in 1829.

A home for the RSM

Initially, the Medical and Chirurgical Society did not have its own premises, and meetings were held at the Crown and Anchor. Eventually two rooms in barristers’ chambers at No. 2 Verulam Buildings, Gray’s Inn were found and these housed the Society for five years (1805-10).

In 1810, the Society moved to its second home at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, where it remained for the next 25 years, first at No. 3 (a neighbour of the Geological Society), then at No. 30 and finally at No. 57. It was there that Thomas Hodgkin in 1832 read his famous paper on 'Some morbid appearances…' (Hodgkin’s disease).

Edward Jenner by William Armfield Hobday
Edward Jenner (1749-1823) painted by William Armfield Hobday

In 1834, when Dr John Elliotson FRCP (1791-1868) was President, a further move took place to the Society’s third home at 53 Berners Street, where it remained for the next 54 years.

Royal Charter

The Society also received its Royal Charter in 1834 from William IV and its title became the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London. Members were now designated Fellows.

 

Famous Fellows and Presidents

Honorary Fellows have included:

The RMCS has also had many Presidents of note, including five with diseases named after them:

Specialist Societies

By the mid-19th century, many specialist societies had been founded in London, including:

Proposals were made on several occasions to amalgamate with the RMCS, but these fell through.

Meanwhile, in 1887 Sir John MacAlister (1856-1925) joined the staff as Resident Librarian at 53 Berners Street, and in 1901 he became Secretary of the Society. It was he who organised the move in 1889 to the Society’s fourth home, at 20 Hanover Square, and it was there that the centenary of the Society was celebrated in 1905.

Under MacAlister's initiative and leadership, the union of the increasing number of specialist societies and the RMCS was achieved in 1907. Seventeen societies joined and with a supplementary Royal Charter granted by Edward VII, the new Society adopted the title Royal Society of Medicine.

The RSM acquired the site on the corner of Wimpole Street and Henrietta Place in 1910. King George V and Queen Mary opened the final home of the Royal Society of Medicine at No.1 Wimpole Street in May 1912.