January 2004

Anna DeCosta Banks, RN

Nursing Pioneer

Anna DeCosta Banks, RN, was a pioneer in the nursing profession—the first head nurse at the Hospital and Training School for Nurses, a segregated institution organized for the purpose of training black nurses with a hospital of their own. She was born on September 2, 1869, in Charleston, South Carolina, during the Reconstruction Era. The daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth DeCosta, Anna DeCosta was educated in the Charleston Public Schools, graduating from Virginia’s Hampton Institute in 1891. Enrolling in Hampton’s Dixie Hospital of Nursing, she was among its first graduates and, in 1895, served as head nurse at this hospital training school. Returning to Charleston, she followed her dream to the Hospital and Training School for Nurses, located at 135 Cannon Street. After her tenure as head nurse, she subsequently rose to become Superintendent of Nurses, serving in that capacity for 32 years. Nurse Banks’ daughter, Evangeline Banks Harrison, said that she seldom saw her mother out of uniform. She said, “Under my mother’s guidance many young women were trained as nurses. She and Dr. McClennan and student nurses somehow managed to care for the large number of Negro patients. Charges to each patient covered only the cost of board and medicine.” Mrs. Harrison continued, “Through the years, friends and organizations donated food and small financial contributions. The hospital experienced many lean years. Through prayers and perseverance, it survived for 62 years, serving Charleston and the surrounding area.” When a new hospital was constructed at 25 Courtney Drive on the west side of Charleston, the name of the Hospital and Training School for Nurses was changed to McClennan-Banks Hospital. It honored Mrs. Banks and Dr. Alonzo McClennon, who had founded the original hospital in 1897. (The institution closed its doors in 1977.) During her life, Anna DeCosta Banks was employed for 24 years as a visiting nurse by the Ladies Benevolent Society of Charleston. When Nurse Banks died on November 29, 1930, Benevolent Society members paid her the following tribute, “All ages, classes, races called her blessed.” A wing of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) is named in her honor for her service to the State of South Carolina.