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.
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.
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.