Who is Sarah Swift?

The University has named the Schools of Health and Social Care and Psychology building after Sarah Swift, in recognition of her services to nursing.  Sarah’s greatest achievements were in organising nursing services during the First World War and founding the Royal College of Nursing.


Sarah Swift photo
Sarah Swift

Sarah Ann Swift was born on the 22nd November 1854 at Blossom Hall Farm, Kirton Skeldyke, near Boston but moved to a farm near Donington, where she attended school.  Her nursing career started in Dundee where she trained, but she travelled extensively throughout her nursing career, working at the Royal Liverpool Infirmary, the London Fever Hospital, New York, then Istanbul before working at Guy’s Hospital in London from 1890.


Royal Liverpool Infirmary
Royal Liverpool Infirmary – drawn by Thomas Allom 1829, engraved by James Allen
Guys Hospital
Entrance to Guy’s Hospital, Southwark in 1820 by James Elmes and engraver William Woolnoth.


In 1901 she became Matron at Guy’s until she retired in 1909 but came out of retirement at the outbreak of the First World War, becoming the Matron-in- Chief of the Nursing Division of the Joint War Committee and awarded the Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1919, as a result of her services.

Grand Dame Cross
Grand Dame Cross

Sarah’s experience in the war convinced her changes were necessary to standardise nurse training so she enlisted the help of Arthur Stanley amongst others. The end result was the establishment of the College of Nursing in 1916, which became the Royal College of Nursing in 1939. It was first located in Pall Mall but the new premises in Cavendish Square were used from 1922, where it still resides.

Royal College of Nursing Library
Royal College of Nursing Library

The RCN library holds the largest collection of nursing books in Europe.


Picture of Royal Liverpool Infirmary courtesy of https://collections.nlm.nih.gov/catalog/nlm:nlmuid-101674097-img

Picture of Guy’s Hospital courtesy of https://archive.org/stream/mobot31753003125132#page/n7/mode/2up