Remembering a Nursing Pioneer
Late in 2015, Roswell Park and the Western New York nursing community lost a true pioneer. Eva Noles, the first African American woman to train and graduate as a registered nurse in Buffalo, died on December 2, 2015 at the age of 96.
With her son, Tyrone, in attendance, Ms. Noles was honored as part of Roswell Park’s 2016 Black History Month celebration. James Marshall, PhD, shared a moving tribute highlighting her many accomplishments as well as the barriers that stood in her way.
Her three-year appointment as Roswell Park’s Director of Nursing in the early 1970s capped a remarkable career that began nearly three decades earlier thanks to a friend's dare. The E.J. Meyer Memorial Hospital School of Nursing had never admitted an African American student before accepting Ms. Noles' application. Upon being accepted into the Meyer nursing program, she not only proved her friend wrong, she also, unknowingly, began a career that would blaze a trail for generations of women to come.
She finished at the top of her class in 1940 and started working at Roswell Park only five years later, but experienced prejudice and racial injustice on numerous occasions. Throughout nursing school, and even on her graduation day, Ms. Noles endured the following incidents:
- She was not allowed to dorm or eat with white students.
- Some patients did not want her providing them with care.
- She was not allowed into the facility hosting the school’s graduation reception.
- She was told by a graduation official that she would never get a job as a nurse.
Not only did Ms. Noles go on to work at Roswell Park for over 30 years, she headed up Roswell Park’s nursing department from 1971 until her retirement in 1974. She also refused to let social attitudes prevent her from pursuing further higher education along the way, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and a Master of Arts in Education, both from the University at Buffalo.
Her legacy lives on at Roswell Park in the form of the Eva M. Noles Scholarship. Established in 2008, the scholarship is awarded annually to a Roswell Park employee from an underrepresented group who is pursuing higher education at a local college or university in the field of health care.
Ms. Noles is memorialized forever in Roswell Park’s Clinical Sciences Center. A portrait bearing her likeness is on display in the state-of-the-art building.
“Cancer nurses are special,” Dr. Marshall noted during his tribute. “Nurses at Roswell Park are special. Eva Noles was extra special.”