Born in Tuskeegee, Alabama, Waterman relocated with her family to northern California when she was three. She studied art at the University of California at Berkeley for a year before leaving to get married in 1889. Waterman and her husband moved to Julian, east of San Diego, where her husband managed a family-owned gold mine. A nationwide depression forced the sale of the Waterman mining interests in 1894, and the family moved to San Diego. They hired architect Irving Gill to help them plan a house overlooking San Diego’s harbor, a process which shaped Waterman’s future career. She worked with Gill, using her artistic talents to design a modest but functional granite cottage. Her husband died in 1903, after which she pursued correspondence studies in architecture at Gill’s suggestion. Waterman then completed drafting and rendering assignments for Gill’s firm. After a three-year apprenticeship, she began designing houses for her own clients under Gill’s supervision. In 1909 sugar magnate John D. Spreckles commissioned her to restore one of San Diego’s landmarks, the Casa de Estudillo, into Ramona’s Marriage Place from the novel Ramona.
While architecture was her main focus, Waterman considered the advantage of incorporating gardens and vistas into her plans. Her most exceptional landscape design was a now-demolished large, walled town-garden commissioned by prominent San Diego businessman Julius Wangenheim in 1917 for which local nurserywoman Kate Sessions installed plantings. Waterman continued to design houses in San Diego’s garden neighborhoods near Balboa Park until 1929.
Waterman contributed numerous articles to such publications as The House Beautiful, House and Garden, and The Federation. She advocated for livable gardens, a revolutionary concept at the time. While most of her buildings remain, her garden designs exist almost exclusively in surviving plans, with the exception of the Casa de Estudillo courtyard. Waterman retired at the age of 64 and moved to Berkeley, where she continued to write until her death at the age of 82.