Jane Hart made mark as equal rights, anti-war activist

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Jane B. “Janey” Hart, an equal rights and anti-war activist, sailing enthusiast, pilot and widow of the late U.S. Sen. Phil Hart of Michigan, died Friday, June 5, 2015, in West Hartford, Connecticut, where she had lived under care near her daughter, Cammie.

Mrs. Hart, 93, was a summer Mackinac Island resident until about five years ago, first in a bluffs cottage with her husband and later in a home along the shore.

Inducted into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007, Mrs. Hart was a supporter of the National Organization for Women, an outspoken proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment and an official in the League of Women Voters.

Mrs. Hart became an early voice for the civil rights movement, aware of the insidiousness of racism, said her son, Michael Hart.

“The visceral unease I felt when, during World War II, a black soldier was seated at a dining car table with me, simply shocked me,” he recalled her telling him. “It made me feel culpable in a crime. I swore I would fight it in me and, as best I could, in the world.”

Her opposition to the Vietnam War led to her arrest during an unauthorized Mass for the dead inside the Pentagon in 1969. She also traveled to Hanoi to gain first-hand knowledge of the effects of the air war there and meet with American prisoners of war.

Her impatience for reform almost led to a disavowal of Catholicism, according to Michael Hart. In the 1960s, she helped found and manage a halfway house for disaffected priests. Despite her differences with the church, she cherished lifelong friendships with clergy, he said.

She married Phil Hart while he was an infantry captain in 1943. He died in 1976 after three terms as a U.S. senator.

Mrs. Hart earned a pilot’s license at the age of 18 in 1939 when there were few women pilots. She joined the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of women pilots, competed in transcontinental air races and served as an officer in the Civil Air Patrol.

In 1958, Mrs. Hart qualified as a helicopter pilot and flew her husband to election events during his first campaign for the U.S. Senate. Her son said their landings in small Michigan towns drew crowds and were an effective campaign technique.

At 40 in 1961, she passed physical and psychological tests for astronaut training and became a member of the Mercury 13 women who, while qualified, weren’t allowed to go into space.

“The men just could not get it and the country lost a great opportunity,” she said at the time.

She was born October 21, 1921, in Detroit, the youngest daughter of industrialist Walter O. and Jane C. Briggs.

Mrs. Hart attended academies in Detroit, Grosse Pointe and elsewhere, as well as Mahattanville College in New York. At 49 in 1970, she completed an anthropology degree at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Besides her husband, she’s preceded in death by their firstborn child, Philip A. “Flip” Jr., and her brother and sisters.

She is survived by eight children and their families, Ann of St. Ignace; Cammie of New Lebanon, New Hampshire; Walter and Lisa of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania; James and Tina of Pasadena, California and St. Ignace; Michael of St. Ignace; Clyde and Betsy of St. Ignace; May and Robert Colombo of Floyd, Virginia, and Laura and Robert Cole of New York. Survivors also include eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

She will be buried beside her husband at St. Anne’s Catholic Cemetery on Mackinac Island. The family requests donations to the Philip A. Hart Memorial Scholarship Fund at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, or to Planned Parenthood.