Posted by Kristen Hyde on August 11, 2016 in Website

Janet Davies, Royal College of Nursing Chief Executive and General Secretary, explores the new nursing register collection and shines a spotlight on the record of one of the RCN’s founders, Sarah Swift.

The Nursing Registers are an incredibly significant collection – especially as they have been digitised during the Royal College of Nursing’s centenary year. Typically, professional registers are predominately male, but at 1.6 million records, this is one of the largest collections of mostly female records.

Nursing, circa 1930s
Nursing, circa 1930s

Nurse registration in the UK began on 30 September 1921.Prior to this, registers of nurses were held by individual hospitals and were not consistent. One of the RCN’s first campaigns was for the standardisation of the nursing registers.

As such, this collection will add to the ongoing study of nursing and women’s history and allow interested researchers to find out more about those who were working in nursing from the point it became an established profession. It will also allow individuals to find out about the lives and contributions made by their family members.

Nursing during the First World War, 1916
Nursing during the First World War, 1916

A look into the records

The RCN’s founder, Sarah Swift, can be found in this new trove of digitised records. As her record shows, she was trained in the Dundee Royal Infirmary and received her certificate in nursing in 1880. By 1909, she had retired as the matron of Guy’s Hospital. Her extensive experience and contacts with the matrons of large and prestigious hospitals meant that she was ideally placed to champion the formation of the College of Nursing.

She founded the College, which later became the Royal College of Nursing, in 1916 in partnership with Arthur Stanley MP. He shared her vision to promote high standards in nursing. They were driven to do so by the experience of World War One, when many women acted as nurses without formal training or regulation. Sarah Swift has been described as a tireless worker. She referred to the foundation of the RCN as one of her “off jobs” done outside work. She was made a Dame in 1919 for her wartime work.

For more information on the RCN’s centenary, visit The RCN.

Kristen Hyde

Kristen is Ancestry's Social Media Manager for the United Kingdom.


  1. Janice

    My great-grand aunt (born in Australia but who later lived in Ireland) was once Superintendent of the Royal Military Hospital (was a nurse by the 1920s). It has been very cool to find some of her records. I think she got around the world too as I’ve found many passenger records for her to far-flung locations.

  2. Joe Cordova

    I’m sorry to do with the phone and sam & Conrad Cordova Albuquerque now Mexico and conrad who was my grandfather.

    Sam cordova and conrad cordova born as twins of Albuquerque now Mexico.


  3. Crystella Poupard

    I have two paternal Great Aunts, who both became Matrons of large hospitals back in the Edwardian times. The younger one, Sarah Giles is listed as Matron of the Queen Victoria Jubilee Convalescent Home in Bristol on the 1901 census and the elder, Alice Giles was Matron of the Muswell Hill Isolation Hospital, Coppetts Road, Muswell Hill, North London in 1911. I would love to find out more about these two, who never knew of my existence, chiefly because their only brother, Francis Giles, a married man broke with his family after he started a relationship with my Grandmother who was many years’ younger than he. I can only assume that my Great Aunts strongly disapproved.

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