Joyce Elaine Jensen Nielsen, feminist, activist, and legislator, was born in Askov, Minnesota, in 1933. She graduated from Cloquet High School in Cloquet, Minnesota, in 1951 and continued her formal education in a variety of settings. She took classes in child development and psychology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota; investment management and insurance coursework at Kirkwood Community College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and staff development seminars at Des Moines Area Community College, Ankeny, Iowa, and the University of Missouri, Kansas City, Missouri. She also independently gained expertise in such varied fields as domestic violence victim advocacy, privacy investigation, and rental property management. Joyce Jensen married Eric Nielsen in 1955. They have one daughter, Cindy.
Nielsen coordinated neighborhood tutoring programs and worked as an Urban Center supervisor for the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP) in Cedar Rapids from 1965 to 1976. In 1977, she started a number of companies that offered services ranging from group therapy to driver's education for newly single adult women. As president of Nielsen Financial Consultants, she directed a network of professional women who combined their skills to provide actuarial, insurance, legal, and financial advice to women in Iowa.
Although employed or self-employed in a variety of jobs, community service was the primary focus of her forty-year professional career. Â In 1969, Nielsen was a driving force behind the Cedar Rapids League of Women Voters' study of high school dropouts. Through the 1970s, she was an advocate for housing code reform and tenants' rights in Cedar Rapids. Nielsen was an early supporter of liberalizing Iowa's abortion laws (1970) and was involved with the YWCA Women's Emergency Shelter in Cedar Rapids and Planned Parenthood. Nielsen founded Women Unlimited in 1979, believing that women needed a resource to learn about financial investing. Through her activism, she gained additional experience in public speaking, grassroots organizing, and management. She won numerous awards for her distinguished record of community service.
In 1988, Nielsen was elected to the Iowa General Assembly as the Democratic State Representative for District Fifty in Cedar Rapids. During her tenure as a state representative, Nielsen was particularly interested in issues of human services, education, and child welfare. She served two terms in the Iowa General Assembly.
The Joyce Nielsen papers date from 1951 to 1996 and measure 9 linear feet. The papers are arranged in six series: Correspondence; Personal information; Business Ventures; Community service; Campaigns; and Iowa General Assembly. The bulk of the collection pertains to Nielsen's campaigns and work as a state representative in the Iowa General Assembly.
The Correspondence series (1953-1991) consists of letters sent and received by the Nielsen family between 1963 and 1991. This series includes letters written by Joyce Jensen to her future husband, Eric Nielsen, during their courtship in the 1950s. Letters between Joyce Nielsen and her former co-workers at HACAP provide an inside look at the operation of this social services agency.
The Personal information series (1951-1986) includes letters, essays, and newspaper clippings pertaining to the Nielsen family. A small folder of biographical information pertaining to Eric Nielsen includes papers chronicling his experiences at the University of Minnesota and his days as a state champion marksman. This series includes photographs enclosed in Christmas cards received by the Nielsen family from 1966 to 1979.
The Business ventures series (1977-1994) contains papers pertaining to Joyce Nielsen's entrepreneurial activities. The bulk of this series refers to Nielsen's activities as president of Nielsen Financial Consultants. The insurance files contain investment guides, financial planning advice, newspaper and magazine articles about women and money, and programs from educational seminars organized by Nielsen. Materials from Nielsen's driver's education business for women complete the series.
The Community service series (1959-1996) includes records of Nielsen's work with non-profit organizations in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It contains the records of the Hawkeye Area Community Action Program (HACAP), which include privacy-protected interviews with aggrieved tenants and problem landlords in the Cedar Rapids area and the records of an early tenant-run co-op. This series contains a highly detailed study of persons who dropped out of Cedar Rapids high schools in 1970 conducted by the League of Women Voters of Cedar Rapids. This series includes records from the YWCA of Cedar Rapids, which was a hub of feminist activism during the 1970s. Records from the Women's Emergency Shelter contain information about domestic violence, including statistics and some aggregated case history information on clients of the Shelter as well as budgets, publicity files, and an extensive folder of public discourse on the topic of spousal abuse. It also features more general information on spousal abuse victim advocacy in Iowa, collected by Joyce Nielsen during her work as an advocate for battered women. Newspaper clippings from the Cedar Rapids Gazette and other area papers complete the series.
The Campaigns series (1988-1992) includes materials from Nielsen's campaigns to serve as representative of District 55, which includes Cedar Rapids, in the Iowa General Assembly. Nielsen was the Democratic nominee in 1988, 1990, and 1992; she won in 1988 and 1990, but lost in 1992. This is the largest series of the collection, at three linear feet. It includes materials related to the nuts and bolts of running a local campaign, including fundraising records, campaign donor lists, brochures, advertisements, newspaper clippings, information about her Republican opponents, correspondence, and surveys completed by Nielsen.
The Iowa General Assembly series (1989-1992) consists primarily of issue files maintained by Nielsen during her two terms as a state representative, from 1989 until 1992. Nielsen collected published and unpublished reports, correspondence, meeting records, and newspaper clippings on a variety of issues, including the state budget, education, child support, gender neutral insurance, economic development, teen pregnancy, the death penalty, mental health, parental consent requirements for minors to receive abortions, and sex offenders. This series includes correspondence between legislators, correspondence between Nielsen and her constituents, Nielsen's position papers and speeches, records from the Iowa Women's Legislative Caucus, and materials related to lobbying. It also contains House and Senate bills from the 1990 and 1992 sessions of the Iowa General Assembly. The series is arranged chronologically by legislative session. Folders within each series are arranged alphabetically.
Alternate Extent Statement: Photographs in Box 3.
Access: The papers are open for research.
Use: Copyright held by the donor has been transferred to the University of Iowa, except for materials pertaining to Cindy Nielsen, which are closed until 2038.
Acquisition: The papers (donor no. 132) were donated by Joyce Nielsen in 1996 and in subsequent years.
Preferred Citation: Joyce Nielsen papers, Iowa Women's Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, Iowa City.