Genealogy and research advice
There is a large range of records which relate to nursing history. These pages contain advice on finding and using nursing records.
The RCN was established in 1916 as a professional association for nurses, which later became a union. The RCN cannot disclose any confidential membership information under the Data Protection Act 2003. The only RCN membership information available is available in a published volume covering the dates between 1916 and 1923. This volume contains information on names, joining dates, addresses and qualifications.
For RCN members, individual membership information from 1916-1982 is available from the Archives. For more recent membership queries please contact RCN Direct on 0845 772 6100.
- The Wellcome Trust holds the records of the Queens Nursing Institute (district nursing in England and Wales). The RCN Archives holds the records of the QNI for Scotland including a card index of district nurses. For Ireland, University College, Dublin holds Registers of 'Jubilee' Nurses, 1890-1967.
- Kings College London hold the records of the Royal British Nurses Association.
- The Royal College of Psychiatrists holds the records of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association which trained and registered mental health nurses or attendants, but does not necessarily hold individual training records.
- There are other medical and healthcare Royal Colleges with historical collections and archives open to researchers. Unlocking the Medicine Chest (PDF 2.78MB) [see how to access PDF files] is a brochure which has been produced by the Royal Colleges to encourage academic researchers and students to use currently overlooked collections for thesis research. These collections offer a rich source of information on a wide range of medical topics.
Matrons, assistant matrons, superintendents and nursing leaders are often named in the nursing press. Historical journals can help to trace awards, military postings, promotions, obituaries etc. One of the oldest journals we hold is available to browse online: British Journal of Nursing / Nursing Record 1888-1956.
The first nurses’ league was formed in 1899 as an association for the trained nurses of St Bartholomew’s Hospital. It was a great success and many of the larger hospitals still have leagues, which publish a regular magazine or have a website for alumni to keep in touch. See also nursing and hospital badges exhibition page on nurses' leagues.
These publications provide a general introduction to the history of the nursing profession and its organisations:
- Baly, M E Nursing and Social Change (Routledge, 3rd edition, 1995)
- Bendall, E and Raybould, E A History of the General Nursing Council for England and Wales 1919-1969 (H K Lewis, 1969)
- Davies, C and Beach, A Interpreting Self-Regulation: A history of the United Kingdom Central Council for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting (Routledge, 2000)
- McGann, S; Crowther, A and Dougall, R A Voice for Nurses: a history of the Royal College of Nursing 1916-1990 (Manchester Universtiy Press, 2009).