Nurse. Banks was born in Charleston on September 2, 1869. She studied in that city’s African American schools. Banks was one of the first students to earn a diploma from the Hampton Institute’s Training School for Nurses in Virginia and became a registered nurse in 1893. Banks was employed as head nurse of Hampton’s Dixie Hospital for two years.
By 1898 Banks was named the first head nurse at Charleston Hospital and Training School, and she dedicated her life to nursing and seeking more equitable health care for African Americans. Promoted to superintendent of nurses, Banks devoted more than thirty-two years to this hospital and the training of nurses. She also was a visiting public-health nurse for the Ladies Benevolent Society of Charleston for twenty-four years and a collector interacting with black policyholders for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.
In 1899 Banks wrote an article for the eighth annual report of the Hampton Training School for Nurses and Dixie Hospital discussing the problems black nurses faced. She stressed the need for funds to create hospitals to offer practical training for black nurses who were denied assignments to rounds in most hospitals because of segregation. Hospital personnel even refused to permit African American nurses to gain experience by attending lectures in wards specifically for black patients. Banks emphasized that black nurses must be trained to prevent whites from securing all of the available nursing positions and that doctors expected and demanded trained nurses instead of “mormers” and “grannies” who informally provided health care. Banks noted that racial violence intensified the need for emergency services and nursing schools for blacks, and she stated that victims of racially motivated assaults had fled to her hospital from throughout South Carolina. Banks sought donations from African American churches and societies and established the Hospital Association to generate funds through membership pledges and fairs. She printed a journal that reported hospital news and goals.
Sometimes discouraged by the overwhelming nature of her work, Banks commented, “Our hospital work is entirely among the poor, ignorant, and superstitious class of colored people of Charleston and its counties,” consisting mostly of those “who believe in all kinds of signs and conjuration.” Despite the black populace’s ignorance and reluctance to consult physicians, Banks believed that they deserved quality health care, asking, “Should we not try to do something to relieve the suffering of these poor people by placing hospitals and medical aid within their reach?” Estimating that only half of her hospital’s patients could pay the three-dollar weekly costs, Banks frequently encountered financial obstacles. She was bolstered by some community support, stating, “Many times just as I am about to give up, some kind friend sends us a dollar or fifty cents to keep it going.”
Banks died on November 29, 1930, and was believed to be the oldest trained nurse in South Carolina at that time. When McClennan Hospital was relocated closer to the Medical University of South Carolina in 1959, it was renamed McClennan-Banks Hospital to reflect Banks’s influence on regional health care.
Hine, Darlene Clark. Black Women in White: Racial Conflict and Cooperation in the Nursing Profession 1890–1950. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989.
———, ed. Black Women in the Nursing Profession: A Documentary History. New York: Garland, 1985.
Thoms, Adah B. Pathfinders: A History of the Progress of Colored Graduate Nurses. 1929. Reprint, New York: Garland, 1985.