History

Florence Nightingale

The Society has a long and distinguished history as one of the prominent statistical organisations in the world. From its beginnings in 1834 to the current day we have made sure statistics continues to be promoted and applied for the public good.

Beginnings

In 1833, the British Association for the Advancement of Science (BA) created a statistical section, following a presentation by the Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet to its fellows. This proved so popular that a year later, a Statistical Society was founded by Charles Babbage, Thomas Malthus and Richard Jones with the Marquis of Lansdowne as President.

During 1834, 411 fellows joined, representing politics, the army, law, history, physical science, philosophy, the church, art, journalism, medicine and philanthropy as well as economists and statisticians. The founding aims were ‘the collection and classification of all facts illustrative of the present condition and prospects of Society, especially as it exists in the British Dominions’.

The early committee structure and work illustrates our basis in social issues rather than mathematics. Early priorities were defined as:

  • The investigation of various areas of statistics and compile reliable data – a committee structure was set up to do this but by 1837 it was evident that the structure was not effective and subsequently committees have been set up only when required
  • Establishment of a library of statistical works – the end of the committee structure enabled fellows to concentrate on the library
  • Publication of papers – ‘Proceedings’ was our first publication and was replaced by the ‘Journal’ in 1838
  • Monthly meetings for fellows and their guests to read and discuss papers
  • The development of an efficient census system is one of our continuing concerns

Expansion in the 1900s

During this time, the Society developed its activities and expanded its influence by:

  • Setting up study groups and sections
  • Publication of our journal series
  • Establishing medals and awards
  • Delivering professional qualifications and accreditation

In 1954 we moved to our own premises. Details of the various offices we have occupied are available on our premises page.

In 1993 we merged with the Institute of Statisticians (IoS) but retained the title of the Royal Statistical Society.

Relevance and diversity in the 2000s

Our work to promote the relevance of statistics to a broad audience is highlighted by the publication of our magazine, Significance, our getstats campaign and the launch of our Data Manifesto.

We’ve always been an inclusive Society: Florence Nightingale was our first woman member in 1858, Stella Cunliffe our first woman President in 1975. Our first overseas member was one of our founders Adolphe Quetelet from Belgium – now, around a quarter of our members are based internationally. Our Young Statisticians’ Section, launched in 2009, supports and brings together career-young statisticians during their first ten years in the profession. And we have an increasing number of data analysts attending our events and joining our membership.

And with data as a key driver for prosperity in the 21st century, we can only see our role and influence increasing.

See a list of our past presidents.

Details of the Royal Statistical Society’s archives.

The RSS has a historical book collection split between its London offices and at the University of Essex library.

We are grateful to our archives and records management consultant Janet Foster for her contribution to the Society’s history pages.