Nell Goodrich DeGolyer, civic leader and philanthropist, was born in New Florence, Missouri, on November 11, 1886, the daughter of Hugh Gideon and Emma Virginia (Hatton) Goodrich. Her father, a teacher and later a dentist, and her mother, a teacher, moved the family to Norman, Oklahoma, in 1900 to give the children access to the University of Oklahoma. Nell, the oldest child, enrolled in the university at age fifteen and studied music under Fredrik Holmberg. She received a music degree in 1906 and a bachelor of arts in 1907. While a student at the University of Oklahoma, she taught in the music department and served as a teaching assistant in the German department, where she met Everette Lee DeGolyer, an engineering student. Nell encouraged Everette to continue his college work, even though it was frequently interrupted by oil-exploration business. On June 10, 1910, they were married in the Goodriches' Norman home. The DeGolyers immediately moved to Tuxpan, Vera Cruz, Mexico, where Everette pursued a highly successful career as a geophysicist. They returned briefly to Norman in 1911 for him to complete his bachelor's degree, then moved to Tampico, Tamaulipas. There Mrs. DeGolyer became active in charity and mission work and served as president of a local club for American women living in Mexico. Her musical talents were also utilized, as she played for a Methodist mission and gave piano lessons in her home. She remained with her husband in Mexico until 1913, when, pregnant and suffering from malaria, she returned to Norman. The couple's first daughter was born there; Everette DeGolyer rejoined his family when political relations between the United States and Mexico deteriorated.
The DeGolyers traveled in Europe on the eve of World War I. Nell enjoyed observing the activities of militant suffragists in England at this time and was impressed with their commitment to civic involvement. Upon their return to the United States in 1916, the DeGolyers moved to Montclair, New Jersey, where three more children were born to them: two daughters and a son. While her husband pursued his oil interests in New York City, Nell became active in the League of Women Voters in New Jersey, but resigned from this nonpartisan group in 1928 to work for Herbert Hoover's presidential campaign. The DeGolyers remained in the Northeast until 1936, when they moved to Dallas to be closer to the East Texas oilfield and Everette's other business interests.
In Dallas, Nell DeGolyer became as well known and respected as her successful husband for her civic activities. She supported the Dallas Symphony Orchestra and civic opera. Because of her earlier involvement in the League of Women Voters, she was asked to become a founding member and the first president of this league's Dallas chapter. She also became an organizer and member of the Dallas chapter of Planned Parenthood; she later served as national president of this organization. She served on the board of trustees for the Wadley Research Institute and Blood Bank and on the board of the Middle East Institute. She was an active Methodist. She shared with her husband a love of travel and books, and also maintained a lifelong devotion to music. Another abiding interest for her in Dallas was the family's forty-four-acre estate known as Rancho Encinal, which she and her husband built and decorated. The thirteen-room Spanish Colonial Revival structure on White Rock Lake in East Dallas, completed in 1940, reflected the DeGolyers' world travels, Everette's outstanding book collection, and Nell's expertise in gardening. Until her death Mrs. DeGolyer lived in this home; it was willed to Southern Methodist University after her death and several years later became the property of the city of Dallas. Into the 1990s the city used it, as the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society, to showcase the gardens planned and maintained by Nell DeGolyer. Nell and Everette DeGolyer also provided for establishment of the DeGolyer Foundation, which led to the foundation of the DeGolyer Library at SMU. After her husband's death in 1956, Nell DeGolyer served as president of the foundation's board. She died in Dallas on May 3, 1972. Her funeral was held in Dallas, and she was buried there in Hillcrest Memorial Park. She was survived by her son, two daughters, and numerous grandchildren.