Anne Penland, nurse anesthetist, was born January 22, 1885 in Asheville, North Carolina to William Henry and Mary H. Blair Penland. She graduated from the Presbyterian Hospital School of Nursing (later the Columbia University School of Nursing) in 1912. Upon graduation she was hired as a head nurse by Presbyterian Hospital. She studied anesthesia – probably at Presbyterian – and by 1914 was listed in the hospital’s annual report as its anesthetist.
In May 1917 Penland left for France as a nurse with U.S. Base Hospital No. 2, a unit largely made up of Presbyterian Hospital personnel. It was assigned to take over General Hospital No. 1 of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) stationed at Étretat, France, in northern Normandy. Because of this the Presbyterian unit is sometimes referred to by that designation. To add to the confusion, the hospital was originally organized as American Red Cross Hospital No. 1. Nevertheless, its official U.S. Army title was Base Hospital No. 2. Though staffed by Americans, the majority of the hospital’s patients continued to be British servicemen.
Twice, from July 22-September 11, 1917 and August 7-October 11, 1918, Penland was part of a detachment from Base Hospital No. 2 that served as a casualty clearing station at the front. In 1917 they were stationed near Poperinge, a Belgian municipality situated on the French border. In 1918, due to the rapidly advancing Allied front, they were based at several places but largely near Villers-Bretonneux (Somme Department) and Grévillers (Pas-de-Calais Department).
Penland was the first nurse-anesthetist seen by the British on the Western Front since anesthesia in the Royal Army Medical Corps was administered by physicians. Though RAMC physicians at first objected to the idea of a nurse giving anesthesia, Penland’s proficiency soon won them over. They asked her to teach surgical anesthesia to their own nurses in order that they could relieve the physicians who were doing this work for more urgent surgical and medical tasks. Subsequently, Penland trained several British, Australian and New Zealand nurses in anesthesia.
Upon her return to the U.S. in 1919, Penland returned to Presbyterian Hospital where she remained chief nurse anesthetist until her retirement in 1952. She also founded a school at Presbyterian to train nurse-anesthetists. She died September 2, 1976 at Paramus, New Jersey survived by a niece and nephew.
This biographical note was based on Penland’s obituary in the Presbyterian Hospital-Columbia University School of Nursing Alumnae Magazine (v.73, no.1, Fall/Winter 1976/77); information on Ancestry, accessed May 25, 2017; and from her World War I diary.