Established in 1805 as the Medical and Chirurgical Society, the Royal Society of Medicine has a long and rich history as a cross-specialty society sharing medical and healthcare knowledge.

The Founders Picture 1800

The Medical and Chirurgical Society

In 1773, the Medical Society of London was formed with the aim of uniting physicians, surgeons and apothecaries under one association. However, by the beginning of the 1800s there was discontent within the Society.

As a result, the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London was founded in 1805 by Dr John Yelloly, Dr Alexander Marcet and Dr William Saunders. Its founding principles was to be a society that “unites physicians and surgeons under one organisation to benefit from shared knowledge.”

From 1805 to 1810, the Medical and Chirurgical Society found a home in two rooms in barristers’ chambers at Gray’s Inn. Here, members of this new Society would regularly meet to discuss medical topics and share their knowledge. As the Society grew, they moved to Lincoln’s Inn Fields where it stayed for 25 years.

Lincon Inn Fields building

The Royal Charter

In 1834 the Society was granted a Royal Charter by King William IV and was renamed, becoming the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. The fundamental objective of the Charter was the cultivation and promotion of Physics and Surgery and of the branches of science connected with them.

The granting of the Royal Charter brought an influx of new Fellows. Money from the subscriptions allowed the Society to move to Berners Street in 1834 and provided finance to expand the Library. By 1849 there were nearly 20,000 volumes in the highly-regarded Library, which became one of the main draws for new members joining the Society.


The rise of medical societies

Victorian Britain saw new advances in medicine, surgery and science from the introduction of anaesthetics in surgical operations to a deeper knowledge of diseases through research in pathology and microbiology. As a result, more and more specialist hospitals and dispensaries were established.

By 1890 there were 100 specialist hospitals and dispensaries, and new medical societies were being founded, such as the Pathological Society (f. 1846), the Epidemiological Society (f. 1850) and the Obstetrical Society (f. 1858).

The Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society was still one of the largest Societies in Britain focused on the advancement of medicine and the only one to boast a Royal Charter. As more societies were established, the Society’s ambition was to amalgamate the specialist societies under one roof.

Richard Douglas Powell

The birth of the Royal Society of Medicine

Sir Richard Douglas Powell, President from 1904 to 1906, launched the negotiations process in 1905 with other London specialist medical societies. In 1907, the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society of London merged with 15 specialist medical societies and the Royal Society of Medicine was born.

A supplemental Charter was granted by King Edward VII to the Royal Society of Medicine, which included the power to create Sections for the cultivation and promotion of any branch of medicine or any science connected with, or allied to, medicine.  

Opening of RSM 1912

RSM at 1 Wimpole Street

In 1910 the Society acquired the site on the corner of Wimpole Street and Henrietta Place. The location was selected partly due to its close proximity to Harley Street, which through the 19th century had seen an increase in the number of doctors, hospitals and medical organisations in the area.

The building was officially opened in 1912 by King George V and Queen Mary. Original rooms included an RSM Council room, a Section’ Council room, meeting halls, a Library and a patient’ room.

RSM Library

RSM Sections

The amalgamation of medical societies led to the creation of Sections and Forums and it established the RSM as a multi-disciplinary Society covering the major specialties and topics of interest in medicine and healthcare.

The late 19th century and early 20th century saw recognition of new advancements in medicine. This led to the establishment of new RSM Sections such as anaesthetics, paediatrics and psychiatry.

After WWII, the healthcare landscape in Britain was changing with the creation of the National Health Service Act 1946 and its implementation in 1948. As an apolitical organisation the RSM remained outside the debate that led up to the inauguration of the NHS.

Yet once the NHS was operational, it had an impact on the RSM. Emerging specialties gained recognition as a result of the burgeoning health service, which led to the formation of new Sections such as general practice.

Queen Elizabeth II 1986 visit


In 1978, the RSM purchased the freehold of the Western District Post Office located next door to 1 Wimpole Street. This saw the expansion and modernisation of the RSM’s premises and redevelopment of the space to include more meeting spaces and new conference auditoriums.

Redevelopments were completed in 1985, and the extended and refurbished RSM was opened by HM Queen Elizabeth II and HRH Duke of Edinburgh in 1986.

In 2013, the RSM expanded further with the opening of the Naim Dangoor Auditorium, a new 80 seat lecture theatre incorporating high-specification audio-visual features.

Charles Darwin

Famous figures

The RSM’s 200-year-old history has seen prominent figures in medicine and science as part of its membership and governance.

Famous Fellows include:

  • Charles Darwin, naturalist and biologist
  • Edward Jenner, inventor of the smallpox vaccination
  • Sigmund Freud, neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis
  • Jean-Martin Charcot, leading neurologist and discoverer of disorders such as Parkinson’s
  • Sir Alexander Fleming; awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945 for the discovery of penicillin; he was President of the Pathology Section (1932 – 34)
  • Thomas Addison, physician and discoverer of Addison’s disease; he was President of the RSM from 1849 – 51