History


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
  • 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 and the launch of our Data Manifesto.

We’ve always been an inclusive Society: Florence Nightingale was our first female member in 1858, Stella Cunliffe our first female 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. We have an increasing number of data analysts attending our events and joining our membership. 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.

  • Archives
    Our archive is in the basement of our London office, housed in a specially constructed bay of 18 rolling stack shelves. The collection contains 106 volumes and 32 boxes of papers.
    Although the archives has some gaps in the late 19th century, the bulk of our official documentation remains intact, and it includes:
    • Unbroken record of Council minutes from 1834 to the present day
    • All nomination papers from 1835 onwards
    • The records of ordinary meetings from 1834 to the present day
    • A wealth of material on the development of the journal, various prizes and medals
    There are also a number of separate deposited collections, including those of a leading 19th century fellow, William Newmarch and pre-1800 books.
    Email our archivist Janet Foster if you would like to view the archive.
    Information about our archives is available on the AIM25 website. AIM25 provides details of over 90 higher education institutions and learned society archives within the greater London area.
     
  • Historical book collection
    Our historical book collection is split between two sites:
    • Oldest part of the collection at our London office
    • Majority of the collection at the University of Essex library
    The oldest part of the collection is held at our London office and includes all pre-1800 books as well as the collections donated by William Newmarch and George Udny Yule. There are more than 500 volumes and there is an appeal for donations towards the conservation and restoration of nearly 200 of these.
    Email our archivist Janet Foster if you would like to view these books.
    The majority of post-1850 books are held on permanent deposit at the University of Essex library. This collection consists of back runs of around 30 periodicals, a large book collection, and an important series of tracts – bound volumes of pamphlets on diverse topics. The core of the collection relates to statistics and statistical history, and contains much material of interest in the field of social and economic history, particularly for the 19th and early 20th centuries.
    Fellows have free access to this collection, on a reference only basis, by request between Monday and Friday, 9am to 5pm. Fellows are advised to contact the library in advance of their visit.
    More information
    For more information go to the University of Essex library website.
    Contact Nigel Cochrane / +44 (0) 12 0687 3172
    Albert Sloman Library, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester CO4 3SQ
    University College Library
    Fellows also have access and borrowing rights for University College Library’s statistics collection by purchasing a discounted borrowing ticket. For more details visit the University College Library Services.
     
  • Premises

    These are the offices and from 1954 the premises we have occupied.

    1834 – we take offices at the Royal Society of Literature
    1843 – we move to 11 Regent Street, W1
    1845 – we move to the ground floor of London Library, St James Square, SW1
    1874 – offices, with Institute of Actuaries, moved to Principal’s House, King’s College
    1884 – we move to 9 Adelphi Terrace, WC2
    1936 – we move to 4 Portugal Street, WC2
    1954 – we move to our own premises at 21 Bentinck Street, W1
    1975 – we move to 25 Enford Street, W1
    1995 – we move to our current premises in Errol Street, EC1