Nicea Howard was the granddaughter of George A. Howard (1810 to 1863). After Mr. Howard's death, his widow, Eliza Gardner Howard (1813-1870), with the assistance of their oldest daughter, Eliza, kept their heavily encumbered property afloat during the difficult times of the Civil War and passed it on in good condition to her surviving children. Jesse Howard, the youngest of them, was the father of Nicea.
Nicea Howard was born in Nice on February 21, 1888 while her parents were temporarily living abroad. She attended schools in France, Switzerland, and the United States. Her mother (the former Anna Rust of Saginaw, Michigan) contracted tuberculosis, and the family lived for a time in the Swiss mountains seeking a cure for her. After her mother's death in Providence in 1903, Nicea took on heavy responsibilities in helping to raise a younger brother and sister. The family established a household on Prospect Street in Providence, but they also traveled in Europe for long periods. In 1906 they spent nearly a year traveling around the world. Although Nicea's formal education ended with high school, she continued independent study in music, the fine arts, and literature, living for a time in New York City.
After the death of her brother in 1923, Nicea spent long periods in Europe with Frances Barker Tracy, who operated a handicraft studio in New York after learning illumination and leather tooling in Florence. While in Europe, Miss Tracy bought handcrafted items for distribution in the United States, and Miss Howard used her fluency in languages to assist. In 1939, upon the death of Jesse Howard, they returned to the US. Thereafter, Miss Howard devoted herself to expanding her philanthropic activities (including the establishment of the George A. and Eliza Gardner Howard Foundation in 1952) and developing the property inherited from her father. She remained active as a member of the Board of Administration of the Howard Foundation until her death in 1970.