The origins of the Royal Society of Medicine date back to the 18th century. The first general medical society of note in England was the Medical Society of London, founded in 1773. In 1786, Dr James Sims was elected President. A forceful and autocratic personality, he 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 society to be called the Medical and Chirurgical Society of London. It 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".
The Society gained a Royal Charter in 1834 to become the Royal Medical and Chirurgical Society. A number of small specialist medical societies, separate in identity but closely connected with the RMCS developed at several dates during the 19th century and various attempts at amalgamation were made. These were not successful until 1907, when a new Charter was granted to The Royal Society of Medicine. The old societies, which amalgamated to form the RSM between 1907 and 1909, were as follows: Society of Anaesthetists, 1893-1908; British Balneological and Climatology Society, 1895-1909; Clinical Society of London, 1868-1907; Dermatological Society of London, 1882-1907; Dermatological Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1894-1907; Society for the Study of Diseases in Children, 1900-1908; British Electrotherapeutic Society, 1901-1907; Epidemiological Society of London, 1850-1907; British Gynaecological Society, 1884-1907; British Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Association, 1888-1907; Laryngological Society of London, 1893-1907; Neurological Society, 1886-1907; Obstetrical Society of London, 1858-1907; Odontological Society of Great Britain, 1856-1907; Pathological Society of London, 1846-1907; Therapeutical Society, 1902-1907. They went on to become specialist sections within the RSM, each with their own Council.
In the course of its history, the parent body, and often some of the smaller societies with it, has changed its premises in London several times. The Society was at Verulam Buildings, Grays Inn, from 1805-1810, then at 3 Lincolns Inn Fields from 1810-1819. From 1820-1834 the address was 57, Lincolns Inn Fields, while from 1835-1889 it was 53, Berners St, W1. In 1890 came a move to 20, Hanover Square, the freehold of which was retained by the RSM until it was sold in 2001. The former stables, Dering Yard, 67, New Bond St, were used by the Society until the 1980s. The Society itself moved out of Hanover Square into 15, Cavendish Square in 1910, and remained there until 1, Wimpole St was built and opened in 1912. In 1963, the Society also acquired Chandos House, 2, Queen Anne St and 10, Duchess St, W1. The Domus Medica (hotel) was established in the former mews at 10 Duchess Street. Chandos House was sold in August 1986 to help finance the refurbishment of Wimpole Street and the acquisition of the adjoining building, the Western District Post Office. The RSM reacquired Chandos House in 2002 for use again as the part of the Domus Medica and also function rooms.
The Royal Society of Medicine is a registered charity and a members only institution and has a formal access policy. Researchers wishing to access the collection should contact the Archivist.
The papers were catalogued by The Royal Commission on Historic Manuscripts in 1975 and have been arranged in the following manner:
RSM/A. Council minutes, papers and attendance books, 1907-1975, of the parent body. Both this and the next class contain, copied or pasted in, significant quantities of letters, accounts and other relevant documents. Arranged as class title, chronologically within each group.
RSM/B. General meetings, minutes and papers, 1907-1963. Arranged as title, chronologically within each group.
RSM/C. Charters, 1834-1907, and republications with bye-laws, 1890-1972; RSM grant of arms, 1927. Arranged as title, chronological within each group. Arms, seals and bye-laws of pre-amalgamation societies are with each society's papers.
RSM/D. Membership papers 1805-1968, excluding pre-amalgamation societies.
RSM/D1 Proposal forms, 1812-1897 (then incorporated in application form), all members and proposal references for candidates for Fellowships, 1915-1956.
RSM/D2 Proposals and applications, various classes of membership, 1907-1965.
RSM/D3 Fellows Roll 1907-date, and obligation papers until signing of the application form and Fellows rolls made the practice obsolete.
RSM/D4 Chronological lists of members, 1907-1964, some broken down by specialities, miscellaneous other membership lists. Most of these groups are in chronological volumes, though some are alphabetical within a given period or group.
RSM/E. Financial records, including appeals but excluding RSM Finance and General Purposes Committee, and excluding special trusts. 1891-date with some gaps. Chronological; in the case of appeals, from the first date of the appeal until the end of its records.
RSM/F. Real property records; including title deeds but excluding House Committee records. In order of the dates on which the Society acquired each property, chronological within each property group, 1805-1972. The deeds have been individually listed.
RSM/G. General correspondence, c.1896-1955, excluding pre-amalgamation societies. Includes personnel and membership disputes, as well as some recommendations for Fellowships which were so well-integrated into these files that no attempt was made to separate them into the membership classes. Membership at various periods was dealt with by the Secretary (as he then was), the Finance Department, and now by a special membership section. The papers are arranged into Secretary's correspondence, Solicitor's correspondence, and miscellaneous correspondence. Earlier nineteenth century letters which do not appear may be in minute books in some cases, or have been lost in various moves, or simply have been kept by honorary officers who may well have conducted much of the Society's business from their private offices. Not until the appointment of Mr (later Sir John) Macalister as Secretary do there begin to be consistent quantities of surviving correspondence.
RSM/H. Sub-committees of the parent bodies, but not of the pre-amalgamation societies, nor of the Sections of the RSM Includes Centenary celebrations, the House Committee (mainly concerned with the Wimpole St Building) and the Council Club. Sub- and Special Committee Books, 1907-1962 followed by committees in alphabetical order.
RSM/J. Amalgamation 1907, papers covering post amalgamation, 1908-1913.
RSM/K. Sections of the RSM, 1907 (or date of amalgamation where some Societies came in later) to 1968 or date of dissolution or reorganisation into other sections. Excludes scholarships and other trusts appointed or administered by sections.
RSM/L. Publications, mainly pamphlets and ephemera possibly not preserved elsewhere, 1907-1952. The Proceedings and Journals of the Society will be found in any major medical library. Arranged chronologically.
RSM/M. Memorial trusts for lectureships, scholarships and other charitable purposes, including some formed before amalgamation and passed on, 1913-1968 Arranged alphabetically.
RSM/N. Social functions 1910-1962, including the Council Club.
RSM/O. Miscellaneous. Arranged chronologically.
RSM/A-F, H, L, O - half of these have been re-catalogued The classes have generally been cross-referred, but no attempt has been made to cross-refer sections and their predecessors the independent societies, on the grounds that the same title was retained in most cases.