Olive Banks, neé Davies, was born in Enfield Highway, a borough in north London, England. Her father was a self-employed builder. She had to leave school at age 16 to go to work. In 1944, she married Joseph Ambrose ("Joe") Banks, and they both enrolled at the London School of Economics to study sociology. Her doctoral thesis was later published as her first book, the pioneering Parity and Prestige in English Secondary Education: a Study in Educational Sociology (1955). In 1954, she obtained a post as a lecturer at the University of Liverpool, where she researched the history of British feminism, resulting in her book Feminism and Family Planning in Victorian England (1964), with Joe Banks. Her next book, The Sociology of Education (1965), sealed her reputation as a leading authority. In 1970, she became the first woman professor at the University of Leicester. She was awarded a chair in Sociology of Education, the first woman at Leicester to achieve such an honor. She remained at Leicester until her retirement in 1982, after which she continued her research, publishing a two-volume Biographical Dictionary of British Feminists (1985-1990) and Becoming Feminist: The Social Origins of 'First Wave' feminism (1986). Her last book was The Politics of British Feminism (1993).