She was born and raised in Indiana and graduated from Hanover College in 1974. After working for three years as the executive director of the Bartholomew County Historical Society in Columbus, Indiana, she enrolled in George Washington University in Washington DC, majoring in American studies with a concentration in historic preservation. While living in Washington, she worked for the National Register of Historic Places.
She moved to Little Rock in 1978, where she married attorney Mark Nichols and completed her Masters degree by writing a thesis on the Pulaski Heights community; the thesis was accepted in 1981. Meanwhile, Nichols became acquainted with Charles Witsell (a prominent Little Rock architect and historic preservation advocate) while he was working with F. Hampton Roy (a Little Rock ophthalmologist, historic preservation advocate and Little Rock City Director) to write a book about the history of Little Rock. Nichols did extensive research for the book, which was published in 1984 by August House as How We Lived: Little Rock as an American City.
Nichols then became a free-lance researcher, operating a business in Little Rock which she called History, Inc. This business did research and documentation of historic structures in Arkansas, mostly but not entirely in Pulaski County. Nichols also worked for the Museum of Science and History (now the Museum of Discovery) in Little Rock, served as the Executive Director of the Quapaw Quarter Association from 1984 through 1987 and again from 1991 through 1997, and wrote several books for the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program (Little Rock: Driving Tour of Three Historic Neighborhoods, 1989; MacArthur Park Historic Tours, 1993, Governor’s Mansion Area, 1993; Historically Black Properties in Little Rock’s Dunbar School Neighborhood, 1999, The Arkansas Designs of E. Fay Jones, 1999, Hillcrest: The History and Architectural Heritage of Little Rock’s Streetcar Suburb, 1999, and Construction of the Military Road Between Little Rock, Arkansas, and Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, 2003.)
She has remained active in historic preservation efforts. She has served on the board of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Arkansas and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She also served on a task force to determine the best use of Curran Hall. Much of her research has been donated to the Arkansas Studies Institute.