M. Evelyn Banks

M. Evelyn Banks (1884-1975) became the first woman president of the ABA in 1932. Born in the City of London on 12th June 1884 and baptised as Maud Evelyn Banks at the Hawksmoor church of St. Mary Woolnoth on 9th July, she was the youngest child of John Banks, a Yorkshire-born bank-manager, and his second wife, Mary Asbridge Taylor, the daughter of a local tailor. Brought up with her siblings and elder half-siblings over the bank at 62 Threadneedle Street, she finished her education as a boarder at Hastings & St. Leonard’s Ladies College, where she won prizes for scripture and music.

After her father’s death in 1904, she lived for a time at Reigate with her widowed mother before moving to Mount Carmel Chambers in Kensington. There she became the first woman to be employed as a library assistant at the Royal Society of Medicine. Her bookselling career began with the opening of a bookshop known as “Banks Sisters” at 7a Kensington Church Street in 1920. Also involved, at least until 1923, was her widowed half-sister Edith Hermine Glover, who had assisted her late husband in editing his editions of Boswell, Hazlitt, etc. The “Banks Sisters” name was presumably also a nod to their stockbroker brothers over in the City of London, who traded as “Banks Brothers”.

One particular reason for opening the shop was "the hope that other women would be induced to set up in what should be a very suitable and most absorbing occupation". The sisters specialised in children's books, games, valentines, etc., and their exhibition of children's books from 1770 onwards was a considerable success. In 1924, Evelyn Banks joined the ABA. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the premises were shared with the photographer sisters Audrey and Leslie Elstob.

Only eight years after joining the ABA, Miss Banks became president, moving at about the same time to what appear to have been private premises at 9 Holland Street, just round the corner from the shop. There she remained until at least 1938, before being made an honorary member of the association on her retirement in 1939. She subsequently moved to Oxford, accompanied by her long-term colleague Dora Chamberlin, and made one final appearance in the ABA Directory in 1948 – turning up at this time as the manager of the Turl Bookshop. By 1951 she had moved to Malthouse Cottage, Church Way, Iffley, where Dora died in 1956. There Evelyn Banks remained until her own death at the age of ninety in May 1975.
Laurence Worms, February 2014. Revised April 2014.