Jane Hart, an aviator, activist, and “American heroine,” died June 5 at the age of 93 from complications arising from Alzheimer’s disease.
Though her husband, Philip Hart (D-Mich.) was a long-serving and well-respected U.S. senator—sometimes described as the “conscience of the Senate”—Jane Hart, known as Janey, transcended the traditional role of a political spouse, charting her own course and claiming her own victories.
“It was and is a union of opposites,” the Toledo Blade wrote of the couple in 1968. “Phil Hart is quiet, gentle, easy-going, and judicious. Jane is forceful, direct, impatient, and somewhat distant.” Phil Hart died of cancer in 1976.
“Few spouses of high-ranking public officials were as well known for their outspokenness on public matters as Mrs. Hart,” the Washington Post declared in its obituary.
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From helping found the National Organization of Women to campaigning for the Equal Rights Amendment, Janey Hart was outspoken on women’s issues in the political sphere. But her personal and professional accomplishments did as much to reflect her commitment to equality. She earned a pilot’s license at the age of 18 in 1939 when there were few women pilots; she qualified as a helicopter pilot in 1958; and at the age of 40, she was one of just 13 women (the ‘Mercury 13’) to pass physical and psychological tests for astronaut training.
According to one biography, “her eight children were between the ages of 4 and 14 when she left Washington D.C. for the weeklong testing. Prior to leaving, she loaded up the freezer with roasts and vegetables for her family.”
Janey Hart also opposed the U.S. invasion of Vietnam. In 1969, she was arrested outside the Pentagon during a peace demonstration, and in 1972 she 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.
According to the Post, “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’.”
In nominating her for the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007, fellow Mercury 13 member Bernice Steadman wrote of Janey Hart: “Pilot, truck driver, feminist, peace and civil rights activist, mother of eight, grandmother, great-grandmother, and political celebrity in her own right…Add to this expertise in sailing, horse breeding, and numerous other interests. These are the hallmarks of a fully engaged life worthy of recognition in the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.”
In this December 28, 1975 Meet the Press appearance, Janey and Phil Hart talk about women’s rights, oil pipelines, raising eight children, and the overlap between their political and private lives.