Dr. Charles E. Banks, historian of Martha’s Vineyard, died yesterday at Hartford. His death comes as a blow to the Vineyard in the affairs of which he had been a notable figure for many years. Not only did he write the history of the Island with which his name will always be associated, but he was a friend of every prominent Vineyarder and of the Island itself. In the preparation of his three volumes of carefully authenticated and finely written history he consulted all the wisdom as to old events and personalities which he could find on the Vineyard and everyone with whom he talked responded instantly to his qualities as a gentleman and a historian of high standards. Although it was many years ago that Dr. Banks undertook the research work leading eventually to his monumental work, his friendships here have been lasting. His interest in the Island, although his visits here had been infrequent in recent years, never diminished. At his death, as through so many years, he was a loyal Vineyarder and the Island’s leading exponent in the world of scholarship.
Of the circumstances of his death no details had reached the Island this morning. His body is to be brought to Vineyard Haven today and funeral services will be held at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon at Grace Episcopal church in which he was long deeply interested and to which he had presented a baptismal font, the replica of that at Tisbury, England, where Governor Thomas Mayhew was baptised. Interment will be at Oak Grove cemetery. Dr. Banks is survived by two daughters and a son.
Dr. Charles E. Banks was born in Portland, Maine, in 1854, and was graduated with high honors in the medical class of 1878, Dartmouth College. Two years later he entered the United States Public Health Service as assistant surgeon. He was promoted in regular course to the rank of Passed Assistant Surgeon in 1883, surgeon 1895, senior surgeon 1912, and during the World War was made assistant surgeon general with rank of colonel. This last was a temporary promotion for special service. It is, however, significant that aside from his particular services to Martha’s Vineyard for which he will always be known and warmly regarded on the Island, he was outstanding in his profession and achieved some of the highest honors possible.

Began Service in West

His first station was San Francisco. In 1881 he went to Portland, Oregon; then to Washington in 1883, Boston in 1884, Portland, Maine, in 1887, and Vineyard Haven in 1889. Here he began his historical studies which continued after he had been transferred to other stations and culminated in 1912 with the appearance of the first two volumes of his history, and years later with the appearance of the third and final volume under the sponsorship of the Dukes County Historical Society.
After leaving the Vineyard he held posts for a second time at Portland in 1892, at Washington as chief medical purveyor from 1895 to 1899, and then at New York where he established the office of purveyor and continues in charge until 1902 when he was transferred to Chicago. Later he served at Key West, Florida, in 1905, a third detail at Portland in 1909, and in Milwaukee from 1913 until the outbreak of the war. In 1915 he was placed in charge of the government measures to prevent the spread of infantile paralysis during the epidemic of that year. His work was so successful in New York city that the epidemic did not spread widely into neighboring states.
When the United States had entered the war, Dr. Banks was ordered to Camp Funston, Kansas, as chief sanitary officer of the cantonment zone, and received the approbation of General Leonard Wood for his efficient work. While there he acted as deputy state health officer of Kansas to enforce state sanitary laws for the protection of the troops in training at the camp.
In 1918, having been called to Washington to take charge of the medical work of the war risk insurance bureau, he was appointed chief medical advisor, a position created for him, and he organized the medical division in that bureau, serving until July, 1919.
His last active duty was in charge of the eighth district of his service, including Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin, with headquarters at Chicago. When he assumed command his office staff consisted of twenty-five, but this number grew to a staff including field officers of more than four hundred. This duty terminated in 1920, and on March 5, 1912, Dr. Banks closed with retirement his long and distinguished career in the public service.

Made Other Contributions

But the narrative of his official details does not include numerous other contributions which he made to the public welfare. He represented the United States at a medical congress held at Madrid in 1989 and also had special duty in Canada. He wrote much on medical and allied subjects, including a prize essay on cholera infantum.
The great avocation of his life was history and literature and he showed great ability in this field. After his retirement with the rank of lieutenant colonel he wrote a great deal and carried on historical investigation, many of them concerning the Vineyard, with great zeal.
When living in Vineyard Haven in 1892 he founded the Duodecimo Club which has continued in existence to the present time and stands as a memorial to his broad interests. He never lost interest in the club. He was a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Lodge, A. F. & A. M., of Tisbury. It was while he was at Vineyard Haven that he began the official work which resulted in the building of the present marine hospital by the government. In this he was aided by Congressman Charles F. Randall of New Bedford. Congress appropriated the funds for the hospital before his transfer, but it was built during the term of his successor.
In connection with his history of the Island, Dr. Banks made a trip to England to consult original sources. Following his retirement he went about a great deal on research work.
Dr. Banks was a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and of the American Antiquarian Society. Among his later published works is the volume, The Planters of the Commonwealth, published by Houghton Mifflin in 19360. He also wrote The Winthrop Fleet of 1630. During this period of research he made a number of important historical discoveries. For a time he was historian of the Dukes County Historical Society and was an honored and honorary member up to the time of his death.
In recent years Dr. Banks had contributed many letters to the Vineyard Gazette on historical topics, and when inaccuracy showed its head, as in an attempt to explain the name of the Island by dubious assumptions, the historian’s clear style left no doubt of his scholarship or the vigor of his pen.
The last writing of Dr. Banks to be published in the Gazette was his tribute to the late Charles H. Marchant this summer. Dr. Banks had made a brief visit to the Island in the summer of 1930.

From the October 30, 1931 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:


Editorial: Dr. Charles E. Banks

In the year 1889 a new surgeon came to the United States Marine Hospital at Vineyard Haven. There was nothing unusual in this; such changes of detail are common in the United States public health service. They have happened often before and since that now significant year when Dr. Charles E. Banks came to Martha’s Vineyard. They have happened so often that it is a cause for wonder and congratulation that the assignment of Dr. Banks to the Island post, and his three years of work and residence here should have turned out to be so far from usual, so epochal in their consequences. The record shows only that this rising young doctor, then 35 years old, was assigned to Vineyard Haven in 1889 and moved on in 1892. Before serving on the Island he had been for details of varying length in San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, Washington, and Portland. After leaving the Island he was stationed again at Portland, Maine, and Washington, at New York, Chicago, Key West, Milwaukee and other cities. For some reason it was the detail on Martha’s Vineyard which went beyond all professional and routine considerations and assumed a major importance in the surgeon’s life. Though he never lived here again for any extended period, the Island was never far from his thoughts, and Vineyarders are very proud that he is now buried here, close to the scenes which made such a strong appeal to him in 1889 as to last all through his distinguished career, filled as it was with other concerns and crowned by notable achievements in his profession.
How extraordinary fruitful the association of Dr. Banks and the Vineyard proved to be known to everyone who has ever examined the three volumes of the Banks history. This work, regarded from any standpoint, is far above the usual histories of minor places on the face of the globe. Nantucket has a more prolific literature than the Vineyard, but it owns no such monumental work as the Banks history. A meticulous scholar, Dr. Banks carried on his research and investigation for twenty years and produced a history which will stand for all time as a definitive work, useful alike to the general reader, the student, and the future historian who takes for his field some specialized part of Vineyard history or tradition. Exacting in its scholarship, the Banks history is charming in its style; it breathes through all its pages the character of the man who wrote it.
On the whole it may be said that Dr. Banks was of the old fashioned school of historians, and we are fortunate that this was so. Latter day writers of iconoclastic histories have contributed a great deal to the world’s literature and the world’s knowledge, but they have also been responsible for a great deal of dubious literature. The Banks history is open to none of the accusations invited by this sort of writing. And the way is still clear for anyone who would develop different themes from the main narrative which Dr. Banks has given us.
Dr. Banks will be held in everlasting and grateful remembrance as the Vineyard’s historian, but so soon after his death we find his other contributions demanding recognition.  The Duodecimo Club of Vineyard Haven which he formed is continuing on through the years, an important cultural and social force. If he had never written his history, he would have this record of his interest and personality as a monument. And there is the present Marine Hospital, for which he obtained the appropriation; this is an achievement of his force and professional ability. Surely that three years spent on the Island so long ago proved permanently important to the Vineyard.