Remembering a Courageous Nurse Champion

Sunday, May 6, 2018 - 8:00am

In recognition of National Nurses Week, May 6-12, we remember the late Eva Bateman Noles, RN, BSN, MEd, who served as Chief of Nursing Services and Training at Roswell Park.

Eva Bateman had more than one reason to celebrate in 1940 when she graduated from the School of Nursing at Buffalo’s E. J. Meyer Memorial Hospital. She was the first African-American to achieve that distinction, and she ranked first academically in a class of 100.

But when she and her date entered the dining room of the Park Lane Hotel for the graduation dinner-dance, they didn’t get far. A line of waiters moved toward them and quickly ushered them out, advising them that the hotel did not serve African-Americans.

At age 90, Eva Bateman Noles shrugged at the memory. “If you’ve been hurt all your life, you get used to another hurt,” she said. There were many hurts: Even after she was accepted into nursing school, it was unthinkable that she could room with a white classmate, so “they had to find a room for me — a separate room, almost in a separate building.”

And there were roadblocks even after graduation, when prospective employers expressed doubt that she was really a nurse, or emphasized that even if she were hired, she would not receive the same pay as the white nurses and would have to eat alone, in the kitchen.

Those roadblocks were no match for her tenacity. After working at E. J. Meyer Memorial Hospital, Sisters of Charity Hospital and Columbus Hospital, in 1945 she followed one of her nursing supervisors to Roswell Park. “I went just to be with her, knowing I would have somebody behind me,” she recalled. “I was welcomed at Roswell Park.”

Here she thrived, proving herself with every new appointment — Head Nurse in Central Supply, 1953; Assistant Director of Nursing – Inservice, 1966; Chief of Nursing Services and Training, 1971.

Invention and Inspiration

Throughout her nursing career, she relied heavily on the writing skills that had helped her win an NAACP essay contest as a youngster, authoring numerous articles in such journals as Hospital Management and the American Journal of Nursing. She also received the New York State Employees Merit Award in 1957 for an article on “Kardex Control of Portable Equipment.”

In the days before disposable medical gloves, Mrs. Noles collaborated with a staff plumber to design a machine for testing rubber gloves to determine whether they could be re-used. With Elias Cohen, MD, Director of Roswell Park’s Donor Center, in 1961 she earned a New York State Employee Suggestion Program Award for developing a method of coating syringes with silicone.

As a supervisor, she proved a strong champion of the nurses who served under her, sometimes returning to the hospital late at night “to give them some support.” Dismayed that nurses were not accorded the recognition they deserved, in 1970 she successfully lobbied Governor Nelson Rockefeller to establish New York State Nurse Week.

As a member of the Negro Registered Nurses Club, she helped raise money for scholarships for young African-American women who wanted to study nursing. She traveled across the country and as far as Israel and Mexico to take part in international nursing conferences that addressed concerns common to the profession. In 1975 she published A History of Nursing at Roswell Park, 1914-1974, paying tribute to the pioneering nurses of the nation’s first cancer institute.

In retirement she continued writing “about things I knew,” tracing the history of Buffalo’s African-American community and calling attention to its many contributions. (Those publications and her papers are preserved in the archives of the University at Buffalo.) In 2002 Mrs. Noles was recognized with the Uncrowned Queens Institute’s Culture Keepers Award for outstanding contributions to African-American culture in Western New York.

In 2008 Roswell Park established the Eva M. Noles Scholarship, presented to a Roswell Park employee from an underrepresented group who is pursuing a degree at a local accredited college or university.

Mrs. Noles died in 2015 at age 96. Today her portrait hangs on the fifth floor of the Scott Bieler Clinical Sciences Center at Roswell Park, recalling a woman of exemplary kindness, courage and leadership.