Forming the First Constitution

On 5 July 1900, a meeting of the Provisional Committee took place. Representatives from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Great Britain and Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Union of South Africa and the United States of America (USA) were present. The business, transacted at the Matron’s House, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital, London, included the adoption of a Constitution and the election of the Honorary Officers.

Following consideration of the Draft Constitution and suggestions and criticisms from absent members of the Provisional Committee had been noted, the Constitution was proposed by Isla Stewart and seconded by M. Mollett. With only a few minor amendments the Council worked with this Constitution until its revision in Helsinki in 1925.

Article 1 of the Constitution defined the objectives of ICN as providing a means of communication between nurses of all nations, affording facilities for the interchange of international hospitality and providing opportunities for nurses to meet together from all parts of the world in order to confer upon questions relating to the welfare of their patients and their profession.

Article 1 also stated that the Honorary Officers shall be trained nurses, and the elected Honorary Officers shall be ex-officia members of all committees. A President of the International Council, having held the office for a full term, shall be made, upon retiring, Honorary President of the Council, with a vote on the Executive Committee and Grand Council for life. (ICN 1900)

The voting papers for the election of officers provided the following results: President: Ethel Gordon Fenwick (Great Britain); Hon. Secretary: Lavinia Dock (USA); Hon. Treasurer: M. Agnes Sniveley (Canada). (Breay & Gordon Fenwick 1931) Headquarters were established in one room at 431, Oxford Street, London. The Preamble focused on the sick and on nursing by stating:

“We, nurses of all nations, sincerely believing that the best good of our Profession will be advanced by greater unity of thought, sympathy and purpose, do hereby hand ourselves in a confederation of workers to further the efficient care of the sick and to secure the honour and the interests of the nursing Profession.” (ICN 1900)

It was agreed at this meeting that the First ICN Congress would take place in Buffalo, New York, USA in 1901, during the Pan-American Exposition, and that the organisation would be undertaken by Lavinia Dock (read more) and Agnes Sniveley (read more). These visionary nurses saw ICN as a federation of national nurses’ bodies, each headed by a nurse, free of state control and representing only nurses.

Lynaugh, in discussing how international nursing came into being, wrote in 1999 of some of the thoughts of the ICN founders as they planned and worked at the turn of the 20th Century and on how they viewed themselves and nursing, based on a detailed written record of their first substantial discussions about broad nursing issues. (Lynaugh 1999).

ICN (1900) ICN Constitution (1899-1922). Document in the possession of the ICN Archives contained in the Office of the International Council of Nurses, Geneva, Switzerland and accessed by Marie Carney in August 2018.

Breay M. & Gordon Fenwick E (1931). History of the International Council of Nurses (1899-1925) Document in the possession of the ICN Archives in Geneva, Switzerland and accessed by Marie Carney in August 2018. Pg. 221

Kathryn Kish Sklar (1999). American National Biography https://www.anb.org/view/10.1093/anb/9780198606697.001.0001/anb-9780198606697-e-1500182

Barb Godin (2019). Women of Interest – Mary Agnes Sniveley. The Voice https://www.voicemagazine.org/2019/03/22/women-of-interest-mary-agnes-snively/

Lynaugh J E (1999) Inventing International Nursing: the first decade (1899-1910) International Nursing Review, Jan/Feb99; 46(1): 9-12.


Lavinia Lloyd Dock

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