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Nelle Peters

Born: December 11, 1884, Niagara, North Dakota. Married: William H. Peters, 1911. Died: October 7, 1974, Sedalia, Missouri.

Nelle Elizabeth Nichols was born December 11, 1884, in a sod house in Niagara, North Dakota. From an early age she was interested in drawing and mechanics. She pursued her interests and attended Buena Vista College in Storm Lake, Iowa, from 1899 to 1903. Continuing her studies through correspondence programs and apprenticeships, Peters received architecture licenses from multiple states. Peters accepted a job as draftswoman in 1903 with the Eisentraut, Colby, and Pottenger firm in Sioux City, Iowa. A woman in a male-dominated profession, Peters learned that her employer, Frank Colby, had hired her because of a bet with his partner.

Peters transferred in 1907 to the Kansas City, Missouri, branch of the firm. A few years later she opened her own firm and began designing houses, churches, and small office buildings in Kansas City. In 1911 she married William H. Peters, a railroad designer for the Kansas City Terminal Railroad. She established her own firm under the name N. E. Peters, partnering with builder/developer Charles Phillips in 1913. Peters specialized in apartment design; over the course of her career she had designed nearly 1,000 buildings.

After 12 years of marriage the Peters divorced. Her successes increased with her design of Kansas City’s largest hotel, the Spanish Colonial Revival-style Ambassador Hotel in 1924, and Wichita’s Mediterranean Revival-style Commodore Apartment Hotel in 1929.From 1925 to 1929 Peters designed six apartment buildings for in Topeka: Barbarosa, Stanleigh Hall, Pendennis, El Camino, Capper, and Curtis. All six were located near the Holliday Park area and displayed her characteristic Tudor and Spanish Colonial Revival styles with decorative terra cotta accents. The scope of Peters’ prolific practice ranged from Oklahoma City to Boonville, Missouri, and from Newark, New Jersey to Columbus, Ohio.

The Great Depression took a toll on Peters’ career as she competed with men for work in a field hit hard. Her small firm was not large enough to compete for government New Deal contracts and her workload vanished. Peters turned to work as a seamstress and never again designed buildings on the previous scale. She maintained work on only small commissions until she retired in 1967. Her last major project was a church in Butler, Missouri. Peters died October 7, 1974 in Sedalia, Missouri.

Entry: Peters, Nelle

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2013

Date Modified: March 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.