Library Europe's largest nursing-specific collection

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History of Nursing

The history of nursing encompasses the story of the largest section of the health care workforce, in war and peace, home and hospital. It includes the nursing care of adults, mothers and babies, children, and people with a learning disability or mental health problem. Use this guide as a starting point to find information resources related to the history of nursing including books, journals, archives and exhibitions.

Last updated: 09/07/2024


Book Cover Anionwu E (2021) Dreams from my mother. Revised edn. London: Orion publishing.
Book cover Borsay A and Dale P (2015) Mental health nursing: the working lives of paid carers in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Book Cover Cohen S (2018) The district nurse: a pictorial history. Barnsley: Pen & Sword History.
Book Cover Corduff E (2021) Ireland’s loss - Britain’s gain: Irish nurses in Britain nightingale to millennium. South Croydon: Rainbow Valley Books.
Book Cover D'Antonio P (2013) Routledge handbook on the global history of nursing. Abingdon: Routledge.
Book Cover Gates B, Griffiths P, Atherton H L et al. (2020) Intellectual disability nursing: an oral history project. Bingley: Emerald.
Book Cover Graham M (2013) Nurses voices from the Northern Ireland troubles: personal accounts form the front line. London: RCN Publishing.
Book Cover McGann S, Crowther, A and Dougall R (2009) A history of the Royal College of Nursing, 1916-1990: A voice for nursing. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Book Cover Nightingale F (2012) Notes on nursing: what it is and what it is not. New York: Dover Publications.
Palmer-Nurse-memoirs Palmer, J (2021) Nurse memoirs from the Great War in Britain, France and Germany. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.
Book Cover Palmer D (2014) Who cared for the carers? A history of the occupational health of nurses, 1880-1948. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Book Cover Rafferty A M (2021) Germs and governance: the past present and future of hospital infection, prevention, and control. Manchester: Manchester University Press. 
Book Cover Rappaport H (2022) In search of Mary Seacole: the making of a cultural icon. London: Simon and Schuster.
Book Cover Sweet H and Hawkins S (eds.) (2015) Colonial caring: A history of colonial and post-colonial nursing. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Williamson-Global-voice Williamson, L. (2023) The global voice of nursing: a history of the International Council of Nurses from 1899 to 2022. Geneva: International Council of Nurses.
Wood-New-Zealand-nurses Wood, P (2022) New Zealand nurses: caring for our people 1880-1950. Dunedin: Otago Press. 

Book subject searches

Use these links to see details of books the RCN libraries hold on each topic.
We would like to thank the RCN History of Nursing member community for their input into the development of this subject guide.

Journal articles

Use these links for details of journal articles on each topic.


Journals of interest for the history of nursing. Use these links to see details of availability.

Exhibitions and Events

Online Library Exhibitions
  • Explore some of the past and present exhibitions at the RCN's Library and Heritage Centre in London.
    View page
Library Events

Special Collections

Our Permanent Collection consists of nursing specific core items and rare items. It is viewable by appointment at the RCN Library and Heritage Centre.
Here is a small selection of items form our collection.
Baly M (1980) Nursing and social change, London: Heinemann.
Grove EW (1917) Text-book for nurses anatomy, physiology, surgery and medicine, London: Henry Frowde.
Nightingale F (1865) Organization of nursing : an account of the Liverpool Nurses' Training School, its foundation, progress, and operation in hospital, district, and private nursing, Liverpool: A. Holden.
Rathbone W (1868) Workhouse nursing : the story of a successful experiment, London: Macmillan.

Historical Journals

The RCN Library and Museum holds an unrivalled range of English language nursing journals from around the world. The earliest issues date back to 1888 with titles covering a wide variety of nursing fields.

If you are a member of the RCN you have access to a digitised collection of 22 nursing journals from the Royal College of Nursing Collection covering dates from 1891 to 1986. It contains information about nursing, hospitals, wards, staff, illness and diseases, medicine and treatments, hospital equipment and events.

Nursing Record/British Journal of Nursing (1888-1956)
  • Digitised journal available online.
    View page
Nursing Times (1905-1987)


The RCN Archive contains some of the most important collections dedicated to the history of the nursing profession in the UK. Visitors by appointment in Edinburgh.
Collections related to the history of nursing include:
  • Royal College of Nursing Archive 1916 – present. Search the Archives Catalogue (Ref No = RCN*)
  • Personal Papers. Search the Archives Catalogue (Ref No = C*)
  • Badges and medals. Search the Archive catalogue (Any Text = badge).
  • Oral History collection. Search the Archives Catalogue (Ref No = T)
  • Photographic collection. Images are available in the Archive catalogue (search Any Text = photograph)
  • Postcard collection. Search the Archives catalogue (Any Text = postcard)
  • Records of other nursing organisations. Search the Archives catalogue (Ref No = QNIS*)
RCN Archive

This subject guide relates to:

RCN Library staff

Diane McCourt

Editor of this guide

RCN Library and Museum

Upcoming events relating to this subject guide

Page last updated - 09/07/2024