Nichols, Minerva Parker (1861–1949)

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Nichols, Minerva Parker (1861–1949)

American architect. Name variations: Minerva Parker. Born on May 14, 1861, in Chicago, Illinois; died on November 17, 1949, in Westport, Connecticut; daughter of John Wesley Parker (a schoolteacher) and Amanda Melvina (Doane) Parker (a seamstress); graduated from Philadelphia Normal Art School, 1882; completed architectural course at Franklin Institute, 1886; married William Ichabod Nichols (a Unitarian minister), on December 22, 1891; children: Adelaide Nichols (b. 1894); Caroline Tucker Nichols (b. 1897); John Doane Nichols (b. 1899); William Ichabod Nichols (b. 1905).

Took over employer's architectural practice (1888); taught architectural and historical ornament at Philadelphia School of Design for Women (1880s and 1890s); won first place in an architectural competition to design a pavilion at the World's Columbian Exposition at Chicago (1893); retired (1896).

One of the first American women to become a successful working architect, Minerva Parker Nichols was born on May 14, 1861, in Chicago. She was the younger of two daughters of Amanda Doane Parker and John Wesley Parker, a schoolteacher who enlisted in the Illinois volunteers during the Civil War and died in a field hospital. Amanda Parker supported her family by working as a seamstress while Nichols studied at the Illinois Normal Primary School, at a convent school in Dubuque, Iowa, and at another school in Chicago. When her mother remarried and moved to Philadelphia, Nichols went with her and enrolled at the Philadelphia Normal Art School.

Nichols picked up an interest in architecture from her grandfather, Seth Brown Doane, who was an architect as well as a mechanic and builder. In 1882, she began working as a draftsman in the office of Philadelphia architect Frederick G. Thorn, Jr, where she learned the art and business of architecture. Four years later, she also completed a course in architectural drawing at the Franklin Institute. In 1888, Thorn relinquished his practice to Nichols, who was just completing her apprenticeship. For the next seven years, she maintained a successful business, involving herself in every aspect of designing, planning, and constructing buildings (a contractor noted, "She knows not only her business, but mine too"). In her residential designs, she combined medieval with Eastlake or Furness detail, and championed individual styles for each room in a house, while some of her other projects used Moorish, Renaissance, or colonial styles. Although she concentrated on building private homes in the Philadelphia suburbs, Nichols also constructed two factory buildings for a Philadelphia spaghetti manufacturer. Her two most noted buildings were for women's clubs, both named the New Century Club; the first opened in January 1892 at 124 South 12th Street in Philadelphia, and the second opened 12 months later in Wilmington, Delaware. For several years, she also taught with her friend Emily Sartain at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women.

Minerva Nichols received national attention in 1893 when she won first place in an architectural competition at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago for her design of a pavilion in honor of Isabella II , the Spanish queen who funded Columbus' journey to America. Although the winning entry was never constructed, the exposition also awarded Nichols a diploma of honorable mention for her work at the Philadelphia School of Design for Women. In 1896, her husband William Ichabod Nichols, a Unitarian minister whom she had married in 1891, became general secretary of the Bureau of Charities of Brooklyn, New York. After moving with her family to New York City, Nichols limited her work to a few commissions for family and friends. She died on November 17, 1949, in the home of her older daughter in Westport, Connecticut, which was also the last home she had designed.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women, 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

Jacqueline Mitchell , freelance writer, Detroit, Michigan

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