One of America's early nurse leaders, Anna Caroline Maxwell validated the effectiveness of appropriately trained nurses during the Spanish-American War and thus influenced establishment of the Army Nurse Corps in 1901. From 1892 to 1921, Maxwell served as the first superintendent of nurses at the Presbyterian Hospital Training School for Nurses in New York City where she devoted her career to elevating educational standards for nursing.
Born in Bristol, New York, on March 14, 1851, Maxwell moved to Canada with her parents during the early years of her childhood. Returning to the United States in 1874, she settled in Boston and entered the Boston City Hospital Training School for Nurses in 1878. Maxwell studied nursing under the supervision of Linda Richards and completed the requirements for a diploma in 1880. Following employment as superintendent of nurses in Montreal, Boston, and New York, Maxwell accepted the challenge of organizing the new training school for nurses at Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. Beginning with a two-year course of classroom instruction and clinical practice in medical/surgical nursing and obstetrics, Maxwell soon added contagious disease nursing to the curriculum. By the turn of the century, the course of study was expanded to three years and by 1917, affiliation with Teachers College provided the impetus for establishment of a five-year program leading to a bachelor of science degree from Columbia University and a nursing diploma from Presbyterian Hospital.
An expert organizer and administrator, Maxwell was a charter member of the American Society of Superintendents of Training Schools for Nurses (1893), forerunner of the National League for Nursing, and the Nurses' Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (1897), forerunner of the American Nurses Association. She was also a charter member of the International Council of Nurses (1899) and the American Red Cross Nursing Service (1899), and participated in founding the American Journal of Nursing and the Isabel Hampton Robb Scholarship Fund. During the Spanish-American War, Maxwell petitioned the surgeon general for permission to bring trained women nurses to military hospitals to care for the sick and wounded. Sent to a field hospital in Chicamauga, Georgia, Maxwell and her nurses found inadequate sanitation, rampant disease, and a high death rate. With skill and determination, they restored order, improved conditions, and reversed an appalling situation. During World War I, Maxwell again played a central role in preparing nurses for active military service. Following the war, she worked to achieve military rank for nurses in the armed forces.
Recognized by colleagues as one of nursing's pioneers, Maxwell was dedicated to improved nursing education, standardizing nursing procedures, and increasing public acceptance of nursing as a profession. She was the recipient of a medal from the French government for her contributions to nursing throughout the world, and was buried will full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery upon her death in 1929.