Women of Caliber, Women of Cache Valley: Veneta Nielsen
“Education makes action more reasonable, and creative effort more shareable.”
—Veneta Nielsen, The Herald Journal, May 19, 1980
Passion for Poetry
Like several of the other women in this collection, Veneta had a passion for poetry and she made it a part of her career. Veneta taught English at Utah State University where she introduced many students to poetry. As a teacher, Veneta “tried to open up windows for her students, to help them look out from their limited experiences to the broad vistas of the mind.” Outside of her career, she became well known for her talent and worked diligently to make available education opportunities to underserved populations of women.
 Julie Clark Simon, “The Poet,” The Herald Journal (Logan, UT), March 22, 1987.
Friendship with May Swenson
May and Veneta had a close friendship that extended beyond the professional poet community. Their correspondence does not indicate when or where May and Veneta met, but the dates of their letters show that their friendship lasted several decades. The two women wrote to each other regularly and often consulted each other on the construction of their poetic works of art. As indicated in her tributes to May, Veneta appreciated her friendship with May. Veneta stated that May’s work exemplified the values: “freedom to think, to seek, to change, to grow, to adapt.” However, as presented in this exhibit, examination of Veneta’s life work reveals that she also exemplified those values.
During her years at USU, Veneta remained actively involved in various campus organizations. She participated in the American Association of University Women (AAUW), an organization whose mission is to advance the “equity of women and girls through advocacy, education, philanthropy, and research.” During the 1950s, Veneta helped coordinate creative art programs for college women (faculty and students). At these programs, women had opportunities to share their talents with other university women. Additionally, Veneta maintained memberships in the Utah State Poetry Society, Phi Kappa Phi, and as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Veneta was an active member of the Relief Society. Veneta involved herself with groups, societies, and organizations that focused on community service, education, and the advancement of women.
Veneta graduated from USU with a bachelor’s degree in 1940 and began teaching in the USU English Department in 1946. She taught for over thirty years. In 1974, Veneta reached sixty-five years old and was forced to retire. One newspaper article noted that this was “four years after the usual retirement age.” Veneta did not let her age hold her back from continuing in her chosen profession, but university rules prevented Veneta from continuing her teaching career. She felt that mandatory retirement was “destroying the dignity of the teaching profession” and argued that professors “are at their best at 65” because they have had years to develop their “knowledge and ability.” She hoped that the policy would change because so many students could benefit from the wisdom of such professors. Forced retirement, however, did not prevent Veneta from continuing her work in education.
 Simon, “The Poet.”
“Poetry can be a tricky betrayal of darkness in the soul, but at its best and worthiest it is REVELATION, revelation from the wells of feeling and intuition to the intellect for its growth in understanding of self and otherness.”
—Veneta Nielsen, AAUW program, USU, April 17, 1984
No longer allowed to teach at the university, Veneta sought out a new group of students to serve. She found fulfillment teaching poetry writing in an unconventional classroom. Veneta designed a poetry therapy course for female prisoners. Many therapists agree that writing can be a form of “self-therapy” that may help “reduce internal conflict, anxiety, and confusion.” Through poetry, Veneta gave a group of nearly voiceless women the ability to speak and a chance to “free themselves from the prison of circumstances.” She purported that “poetry is liberating. It sets something free that shouldn’t be imprisoned even though their bodies are.” Through poetry, the female prisoners had the ability to rise above the negativity of their present circumstances. Veneta noted that women in the program benefitted by developing “powers of disciplined thinking, and constructive attitudes toward self and others.” Through her prison poetry project, Veneta demonstrated a combined passion and concern for education, creativity, civic awareness, exercised her leadership abilities, and magnified the other values that she held in common with the other women of this exhibit. Additionally, she encouraged other women, prisoner and free, to develop a sense of individuality as they explored the limits of their poetic creativity.