Sister Marie Anderson was born on May 22, 1872, in Halland, Sweden. Trained as a dressmaker, she came to America at the urging of an uncle when she was 17. She worked at menial jobs until she learned English. After the death of her fiancé, she “entered the deaconess calling” on November 1, 1895, when she was 23 years old. Arriving at night on the train in “a very forlorn Omaha,” the train conductor, “a thoughtful gentleman,” was worried about her safety. He put her on a streetcar that would get her to the Immanuel Deaconess Institute and paid her fare.
Sister Marie was trained in hospital and parish work. In the summer of 1897, she was sent to Madrid, Iowa, to teach Swedish. In January 1898, she was sent to take charge of a six bed hospital in Wakefield, Nebraska. She was to assist the doctor in surgery and give the anesthetic, so a doctor at Immanuel was asked to teach her to give ether. She had a very unfavorable view of the way it was given because the patients would “fight and sometimes almost get away.” Patients said the anesthetic was worse than the surgery. The method used was to make a cone of a newspaper covered with a towel, putting some cotton in and pouring about ½ ounce of ether on it, then putting it tight over the patient’s nose. The doctor gave her a few pointers and then left her on her own. “Believe me I was nervous, I managed to keep the patient asleep and alive but my worries were not over until the patient was awake.”
She was only in Wakefield a few months, then was sent to Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota to care for soldiers wounded in the Spanish- American war, many of whom had typhoid. In the fall of 1899, she returned to Omaha because of illness, which was thought to be typhoid. After recovering, she was sent to Kansas City, Kansas, as a parish deaconess for three years. She was consecrated on April 30, 1902. In 1904 she was sent to Salt Lake City, Utah, to work as a missionary-nurse in the home mission field. She was there about 1½ years and then was again sent to Kansas City to teach Swedish. In 1906, she was recalled to Omaha, “giving anesthesia whenever needed.”
Wanting to relieve the patients’ fears, Sister Marie tried to find literature on giving anesthesia but there was none, so she experimented on herself. She put on a mask (they now had factory-made ones) and put it over her face. She learned the problem; the patients feared suffocation. She started experimenting with an “open drop method,” putting on only a drop at a time. “I found I could put a patient to sleep in less time than with the previous method and the patient was relaxed.” For this achievement, although she was not a licensed nurse, she was given a commendation and made an honorary member of the Nurses Anesthetic Association in 1935. In 1925 she became head of anesthetics and was in charge of the drug room. In all her years of giving anesthesia, she never had a patient die. She retired in 1937, but continued to work in the communion wafer department and the pharmacy. She served for 30 years as a board member of the Augustana Lutheran Women’s Home of Omaha, and worked for many years on the Conference board of the Women’s Missionary Society.
Sister Marie became a U.S. citizen on December 5, 1910. According to naturalization papers, she was 5 feet, 2½ inches tall, with a light complexion, blue eyes, and light brown hair. She died on December 15, 1962. She asked that her silver cross be left on when she was buried.