Banov, Leon

July 5, 1888–November 4, 1971

Beginning in 1926, Banov served as the public health officer for both the county and the city of Charleston. He combined the two departments in 1936 and remained as director until his retirement in 1962. Despite South Carolina’s small public health allocations, Banov attracted the attention of peers throughout the country and both federal and private funding sources because of his efficiency and diligence.

Physician, public health official. Banov was born in Suwalki, Poland, on July 5, 1888, the son of Alexander Banov and Sonia Danielewicz. He immigrated to South Carolina at the age of eight to join his parents in Charleston. Banov did not attend high school but read at home and held a series of odd jobs. He enjoyed working in a pharmacy, which led him to enroll in the Pharmacy School of the Medical College of South Carolina, where he received the Ph.G. in 1907. Banov’s return to the Medical College and lifelong interest in preventive medicine were stimulated by his sister’s death from tuberculosis. He received the M.D. in 1917. In 1912 he married Minnie Monash. The couple had three children.

In 1920 an appropriation of $10,000 from the state and a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation helped establish Charleston County’s health department. Dr. James A. Hayne, director of the state Board of Health, made Banov the county’s first health officer after recalling the extensive overtime Banov worked as a city bacteriologist and food inspector during the World War I influenza pandemic. As county health officer, Banov and his staff–a secretary, a public health nurse, and two sanitary inspectors–instituted routine medical examinations of schoolchildren, enforced existing laws requiring smallpox vaccinations, and advocated inoculation against typhoid. The county’s infant mortality rate led the nation, so Banov secured funding from the federal Children’s Bureau and the Rockefeller Foundation to establish schools for midwives, well-baby clinics, parenting programs, and a nursing service. Since tuberculosis was especially severe in Charleston during the 1920s, Banov built an eighty-bed sanatorium seven miles outside the city and promoted public awareness of the disease through newspaper articles and radio spots.

Beginning in 1926, Banov served as the public health officer for both the county and the city of Charleston. He combined the two departments in 1936 and remained as director until his retirement in 1962. Despite South Carolina’s small public health allocations, Banov attracted the attention of peers throughout the country and both federal and private funding sources because of his efficiency and diligence. When Charleston County was dropped from the birth registration area in the mid-1920s because physicians and midwives failed to submit the required number of records, Banov began sending greeting cards to newborns with enclosed birth records. Parents appreciated the gesture and pressured attendants to report births more accurately so that they could receive copies of the birth certificates. Charleston was among the sites selected for the initial demonstration of the Salk polio vaccine due to Banov’s reputation and record keeping. Banov remained steadfast in his commitment to vaccinating large numbers of patients at specialized clinics despite a county doctor’s threat to shoot him for curtailing his practice. He also prevailed when the county Medical Society opposed the free clinics he organized to dispense diphtheria toxoid. For Banov, preventive medicine and the health of Charleston’s poor and working-class citizens trumped the private practices of individual physicians.

After his retirement, Banov further developed his love of carpentry, gardening to attract birds, painting, and sculpture. He enjoyed good health into his eighties and saw his son Leon, Jr., follow him as a physician. Banov was killed in an auto accident on November 4, 1971, and was buried in the Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim Cemetery in Charleston.

Banov, Leon. As I Recall: The Story of the Charleston County Health Department. Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1970.

A Quarter of a Century of Public Health in Charleston, South Carolina.

Charleston, S.C.: Charleston County Department of Health, [1945?]. Smith, William Atmar. Leon Banov, M.D., and Public Health in Charleston.

Columbia, S.C.: R. L. Bryan, 1968.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Banov, Leon
  • Coverage July 5, 1888–November 4, 1971
  • Author
  • Keywords Physician, public health official, Pharmacy School of the Medical College of South Carolina, World War I influenza pandemic,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date May 9, 2021
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update July 7, 2016
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