The Glasgow and West of Scotland Co-operation for Trained Nurses

By Keith Clark

When the hospitals of Scotland began to use anaesthetics, antiseptic surgery and other advanced medical techniques in the 1860’s and 70’s, it became necessary to ensure that properly trained nurses were available to assist the medical profession with patients and patient recovery.  As a result, hospitals began to train nurses that would be accepted and respected by both the medical profession and the general public.

The Glasgow and West of Scotland Co-operation for Trained Nurses was started in 1892 in response to this changing role and position of the nursing profession. It was created to help ensure that well trained nurses would be able to earn a living working in the Glasgow area by linking the medical community, professional nurses and the general public of that area. It was meant to ensure that the services of trained nurses would be readily available to all who required them.

The founder of Glasgow and West of Scotland Co-operation for Trained Nurses, Helen Rough, was a trained nurse herself and had firsthand knowledge of the critical role that nurses were now starting to play in care of the sick in her community. To help keep Glasgow trained nurses in the area, Miss Rough set out to create a nurse co-operative based on a model of one that appeared in London in 1891.  The Co-operation was part trade union and part benevolent society. Prospective members had to apply to be members of the Co-operation and were carefully screened to ensure that they were well qualified. Nurses that belonged to the Co-operation collected their fees from patients and then paid a 10% commission of their earnings back to the organization. From this fund the working expenses of the Co-operation were paid. The nurses were required to be supervised by a Lady Superintendent.

Miss Rough solicited money and sought the help of influential friends and by April 1893 she had collected £700 and created a working committee to establish a nurses Co-operation for Glasgow and area.

The objects of the Glasgow and West of Scotland Co-operation for Trained Nurses, defined in its constitution, were to

  • establish in Glasgow a register for thoroughly-trained nurses, where they may be engaged by medical practitioners and the public;
  • provide nurses with regular employment, and at the same time a full remuneration for their services;
  • establish in Glasgow a central home where, while off duty, nurses may live comfortably at moderate charges;
  • provide a fund for the benefit of the nurses the Co-Operation.

The organization was accepted by Glasgow doctors of the time as evidenced by their support in accepting positions on the board or being appointed as an honorary physician to the organization. Two notable such doctors were Dr. Elizabeth Margaret Pace and Dr. David Newman. Dr Pace was a graduate of the London School of Medicine for Women and was noted for having an award in obstetrics.  Dr Newman started as an assistant to Dr Joseph Coats and went on to earn an international reputation as a pioneering urologist. He was the Chair of the Co-operation’s Executive Committee for many years.

A house was leased in 1893 at 18 Sardinia Terrace in Glasgow for use as the headquarters and as a nurses’ residence. In late December of that year an advertisement appeared in the Glasgow Herald soliciting the enrolment of trained nurses into the Glasgow & West of Scotland Co-operation for Trained Nurses.

On Friday afternoon 12 January 1894 the first annual meeting of members of the Board of Directors was held at Sardinia Terrace. Dr Joseph Coats took the chair and Mrs Isabella Elder agreed to become first president of the organization. Throughout its history the Board of Directors had many well connected people on it.

In its first year of operation the Co-operation had only 31 nurses on its register and earned only £21. In 1898 it was forecast that by 1903 the nurses would have served 4,000 cases. As the organization grew more nurses joined and in 1897 the Co-operation showed its first profit. By 1903 the organization had served 6,836 cases, considerably more than had been projected 5 years earlier.

The annual meeting of 1903 was chaired by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll. It was stated in that year’s report that the current number of staff nurses was 160 and that the organization had expanded so quickly that a new constitution and rules were necessary. These new rules stated that nurses who wished to join the Co-operation must have three years training at a teaching hospital and must have a diploma after examination. The rules also stated that casual nurses must have the same qualifications as full time nurses.

By 1904 the organization had grown significantly and the Co-operation purchased the house adjacent to the one it had on Sardinia Terrace to accommodate the increased number of members. It also had established a “sea side resort” for use by its nurses who worked over the large area.

The need for a sick fund was recognized and in 1908 a bazaar that involved many communities in Western Scotland raised over £4,000 to establish this fund.  That year also saw a change in the commission structure that the nurses were required to pay. Instead of everyone paying 10%, it was arranged so that new members paid 10% for the first two years, 7½ % for the next 5 years and then 5% after that.

The census of 1911 indicated that there were 27 rooms in the Sardinia Terrace houses and a total of 8 people living there; 4 were sick nurses (boarders), 3 were servants and one was the Lady Superintendent Helen Rough.

In 1912 the 180 nurses on the roll had attended 1960 cases. This brought the total number of cases attended by member nurses to 26,231 since the founding of the organization. It was noted that the organization represented true co-operation between the medical profession and the nurses.

The war years presented a problem for the Co-operation. At the start of World War 1, 62 of the 188 nurses on the roll left to join the war effort. Halfway through the war the number of nurses on the roll had grown back to 165. In 1916 it was noted that the Co-operation’s executive were pleased that so many of their nurses were able to contribute to the war, however it was a financial sacrifice for both the nurses, as they earned less, and  for the Co-operation as its revenue dropped by £2,093 that year . In 1918, another 80 nurses of the Co-operation left for war service. Despite this loss of members to the war, the Co-operation continued to operate and was able to ensure that the people of Glasgow had access to well trained professional nurses during this difficult time.

In 1917 it was proposed to add a pension fund to its existing benevolent fund for member nurses. An appeal went out for funds and almost £2,000 was quickly raised. It was also after the war that the organization became known simply as the Co-operation for Trained Nurses.

With the end of the war, the first Lady Superintendent, Helen Rough, decided to retire and in 1919, at age 80, she left the organization that she founded, nurtured and had grown into one that had served over 40,000 clients during her tenure. She had established a safe home for nurses in Glasgow and provided them with a benevolent fund and a pension fund.

The Co-operation for Trained Nurses continued to flourish after Rough’s departure under the direction of Lady Superintendent Miss E.E.Taylor. In 1920 a total of 1949 cases were attended bringing the total number of cases attended since 1894 to 40,878. By September 1922 the Co-operation had nursed 45,046 cases and earned a total of £318,240, 11s, 10d. .

In 1924 the Co-operation of Trained Nurses moved from their Sardinia Terrace home to 1 Belhaven Terrace West in Glasgow.  In 1940, Miss Taylor left the organization when she was appointed Regional Nursing Officer to the Western area of Scotland and she was replaced by Miss E.V. Ritchie. The organization continued to flourish after the war providing private nursing services and at one point in the 1950’s there were three addresses listed for the Co-operation although the main office on Belhaven Terrace was always the most prominent listing. Over the years the Lady Superintendent changed; Miss Ritchie in 1945, Miss M. Reid in 1950 and Miss Watt in 1959.

On 27 October 1964, the business of the Co-operation of Trained Nurses was wound up after serving the community for 71 years. Its funds, including the Pension and Benevolent Funds, were transferred to The Trades House of Glasgow. This organization, acting as a charitable trust called the Belhaven Nurses’ Fund, administered the finances to the benefit of the former nurses that were members of the Co-operation.


References for the Glasgow and West of Scotland Co-operation for Trained Nurses

Glasgow Herald 22 December 1893
Dundee Advertiser – 15 January 1894
Glasgow Herald – November 1894
The Lancet Issues: 20 Jan 1894 p. 186; 28 March 1903 p. 921;
Burdett’s Hospitals and Charities 1899 p. 672
City of Glasgow City Directory Years: 1902, 1904, 1917 to 1959
Edinburgh Evening News 18 Dec 1903
The Canadian Nurse Volume 4 1908 p. 77
British Journal of Nursing  Issues: 16 July 1910 p. 49; 25 Jan 1913 p. 71; 13 Feb 1915 p. 134; 111 March 1916 p. 234; 13 April 1918;
The Scotsman Issues: 20 Nov 1912; 26 Nov 1920; 29 Nov 1922;
Glasgow Medical Journal. v.89 1918 p. 74
The Scotsman 23 May 1940
The Trades House Digital Library – Home (


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