Olive Woolley Burt BA'18 started her writing career in 1905 with a poem published in the San Francisco Examiner. She was nine. From then on, writing and encouraging others to write were central interests in her life.
Burt was the only daughter in a family of seven children. Her parents were teachers. After graduating from the U, she became one too, educating youngsters in rural Utah and Nevada. She married fellow teacher Clinton Burt and, upon returning to Salt Lake in 1927, began her career at The Salt Lake Tribune.
As children's editor, her first assignment was editing a new supplement to the Sunday paper, The Salt Lake Tribune Junior. Except for the editorial page, which Burt wrote, all the stories and art were children's. She also edited School News and Views, a column in the daily paper written by students. In routine visits to every school, Burt taught her young editors journalistic style.
Her third floor office at the Tribune was a haven where youngsters could write, draw, and learn firsthand how newspapers are published.
When the newspaper's manager inaugurated a national character-building organization for children, Burt was a natural pick as coordinator. The Knighthood of Youth's activities were featured in the Tribune Junior.
In addition to the newspaper, two weekly radio programs and hobby and variety shows- all managed by Burt-gave kids other opportunities to develop their talents and interests. The Depression, World War II, and other commitments eventually caused the demise of these programs and Burt handled other assignments at the paper until 1945. Following a two- year freelance stint, she went to the Deseret News as magazine editor, a position she held for 20 years. Along with her responsibilities as wife and mother-the Burts had three children-and her newspaper work, this motivated and energetic woman also found time to write 52 books for children, one for adults, and many poems, articles, stories, and plays. She typed them all with a hunt-and-peck system of her own design.
Although proud of her one adult book, American Murder Ballads and Their Stories,
(Oxford University Press) for which she won an Edgar from the Mystery Writers of America,
Burt's real love was writing for children. The major publishing houses -Henry Holt, Bobbs
Merrill, Julius Messner, John Day, Franklin Watts, and others-accepted her work.
Burt held an innate respect for people of all races and nationalities, which was reflected in
her writing. I Am An American (John Day) was described by a New York Times reviewer as "an
indoctrination in democracy by a veteran author and teacher."|
Western topics, biographies, people of little-known cultures, how our country developed its resources, and other subjects were all in her sphere of writing.
Negroes in the Early West (Messner), Sacajawea (Watts), and her personal favorite, I Challenge the Dark Sea (John Day) are examples. Indian lore inspired her best-known poem, The Bear Dance.
Burt, who became a widow in 1968, continued to travel as she and her husband had. She was on a round-the-world cruise when named a Distinguished Alumna of the U in 1978. She flew from Australia to accept the award.
Burt died in Salt Lake City in 1981. Messner had published her last book, Rescued: America's Endangered Wildlife on the Comeback Trail the year before. To those she taught and encouraged to write, and to children who read her books in libraries nationwide, her legacy lives.