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Innovation and Inspiration: The Campaign for Kansas University
University Archives & Manuscripts - Exhibits
First Ladies of K-State: Marguerite Nichols

Marguerite (Rae) Nichols


Marguerite Rae was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on April 7, 1858, the tenth of eleven children. She and three of her siblings (James, Mary and William) arrived in America on August 13, 1869, aboard the Cambria.

Initially living in Chicago, she survived the fire of 1871, before moving to Iowa. The 1880 census shows her attending Iowa State Normal School (now Univ. of Northern Iowa) in Cedar Falls. She met her future husband, Ernest Nichols, during literary society events at school.

They married in Chicago in 1888. In 1890, Ernest was hired as an instructor in physics and superintendent of telegraphy at Kansas State College. In 1895, they spent a year in Chicago while Ernest pursued graduate work. It was during this time that their son, Rae, was born.

Ernest accepted the presidency in 1899, which dismayed his wife. Marguerite regarded college professorship as the ideal position and, having been a faculty wife for over a decade, knew how political and uncomfortable the presidency could be.

Marguerite contributed a great deal toward her husband's success. While he was known as a man of few words, she was graceful, diplomatic and took a geniune interest people and events. She volunteered as a teacher at the German Lutheran Church on 8th & Poyntz. She was a member of the Domestic Science Club, the State Federation of Kansas Women's Clubs. Mrs. Nichols hosted a reception for the senior women each year, in addition to one for the entire graduating class. She also held monthly teas for faculty wives, in groups of twelve.

The Nichols were the first presidential family to build a house in Manhattan, located at 1031 Leavenworth east of City Park (fire later destroyed the top floor of house). The couple enjoyed riding their tandem safety bicycle around town (whenever they could find smooth roads). They also had one of the first electric cars in town.

In 1909, they moved to Chicago and managed the Thurston Teachers Agency, that located positions for prospective teachers.

Marguerite died on October 3, 1939. Her husband died a month later. They were cremated, per their request.

Marguerite Nichols

Photo courtesy of the Cherokee Area Archives

Biographical information on the First Ladies was provided by:
Dr. Michaeline Chance-Reay, Assistant Professor, Women's Studies and COE, author of Land Grant Ladies: Kansas State University Presidential Wives