Jane B. Hart, whose conscience, determination and personal convictions prompted words and actions on public issues that sometimes went beyond those of her husband, a sitting U.S. senator, died June 5 at a care facility in West Hartford, Conn. She was 93.
Mrs. Hart, who was called Janey, was the wife of Philip Hart (D-Mich.), one of the most respected members of his party. He was sometimes described as the “conscience of the Senate,” in which he served from 1959 to 1976. A Senate office building is named for him.
According to Michael Hart, one of the couple’s sons, Mrs. Hart had complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
Few spouses of high-ranking public officials were as well known for their outspokenness on public matters as Mrs. Hart.
At various times during the fighting in Southeast Asia, she visited North Vietnam, was arrested at the Pentagon and proclaimed her refusal to pay taxes to support the war.
She also worked for equal rights, became a pilot and flew her husband to campaign events in a helicopter. She raised eight children, was one of 13 women who passed an astronaut screening test and graduated from college in her late 40s.
Mrs. Hart’s vigorous and independent activism could at times be “a little bit . . . complicated” for the senator, Michael Hart said.
On occasion someone would demand of him, “Can’t you control that wife of yours?” their son recalled. But the senator would respond, “Why would I?”
At the Pentagon in 1969, Mrs. Hart was arrested with dozens of others during a peace demonstration. The convictions were overturned on appeal. She made a trip to Hanoi in 1972 to meet American prisoners and to gauge for herself the effects of the U.S. bombing of North Vietnam.
In 1972, Mrs. Hart reportedly stopped paying her federal income taxes to protest the U.S. role in the Vietnam War.
“I cannot contribute one more dollar toward the purchase of more bombs and bullets,” she wrote to the Internal Revenue Service. She placed the funds in a special bank account.
Philip Hart told his wife that he did not think withholding taxes was the best form of protest. Earnest discussions ensued, but she remained resolute. Her conscience, she said, would not permit her to accept the “killing of innocent people without cause.”
The senator said he found himself in an odd position: being “proud of a decision that I disagree with.”
Among the issues that concerned her deeply, her son said, was population control; in her view, overpopulation lay at the heart of many of today’s global problems.
Jane Cameron Briggs was born Oct. 21, 1921, in Detroit. She was the youngest daughter of Walter O. Briggs, an industrialist who was the longtime owner of the Detroit Tigers.
She attended Manhattanville College in New York for about a year and was married to Hart in 1943 while he was an Army captain during World War II. Years later, she obtained a degree in anthropology from George Washington University.
Mrs. Hart learned to fly, obtaining a pilot’s license while still in her teens.
She thought she had managed the feat without her father’s knowledge, but one day, according to her son, her family was entertaining noted aviator Eddie Rickenbacker. She overheard her father say, “You know, Eddie, you aren’t the only flier in this house.”
Philip Hart died of cancer in 1976. Their first-born child, Philip A. Hart Jr., died in infancy. Survivors include eight children, Ann Hart, Michael Hart and Clyde Hart, all of St. Ignace, Mich.; Jane Cameron “Cammie” Hart of New Lebanon, N.H.; Walter Hart of Bryn Mawr, Pa.; Jim Hart of Pasadena, Calif.; May Colombo of Floyd, Va.; and Laura Cole of Verbank, N.Y.; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
Mrs. Hart maintained homes in Washington and on Mackinac Island in Michgan.
After her husband died in office, she seemed “perfectly happy to exit the stage,” her son said. Her public profile diminished in later years, he said, but she was “also willing to write a letter of outrage now and then.”