Born To Ride, Then To Fly: Mackinac Island’s Jane B. Hart
Jane B. Hart is a longtime summer resident of Mackinac. She continues to have a lifelong passion for women’s rights, aviation, sailing, good books, politics, Mackinac Island, and horses. Few people these days realize just how passionate she can be, and was, when it comes to riding. During the late 1930s and early 1940s, Mrs. Hart was one of the top open jumpers, not only in Michigan, but was holding her own in the top-rated shows in the United States.
Riding, and riding well, were important to this “Michigan Women’s Hall of Famer,” at a very early age, and horses were a part of her life. Mrs. Hart grew up in Detroit, riding, hunting with the Bloomfield Open Hunt, and competing at Madison Square Garden in New York City. She showed Open jumpers with the best of the pros, including Cappy Smith. Open jumpers jump the “big” fences. Those days in the Hunter-Jumper ring, the warm-ups started at three feet. Real competition for the top prize saw riders soaring over fences that were an average four feet, six inches to five feet, six inches, and higher, all at speed, all without fuss, and all without a certified helmet.
Mrs. Hart is the daughter of Walter O. Briggs and Jane Cameron. Walter Briggs’ family were successful Michigan carriage builders. The business converted later to become one of Detroit’s premier auto body manufacturers. Mrs. Hart was born October 21, 1921. As a young girl, a favorite horse was her pinto pony. She still is a natural athlete. She was at home on a horse, a natural, and she loved to jump.
Mrs. Hart was at her peak in the early 1940s. Her favorite horse, at this time, was an eyecatching Bay Thoroughbred mare named Marina. The pair were technically brilliant in taking fences.
Jane Briggs married Phil Hart in 1942. Her husband went on to become one of Michigan’s most best beloved and noted U.S. senators, and the couple had eight children: Ann, Jane Cameron “Cammie”, Walter, James, Michael, Clyde, May, and Laura. But motherhood had no stopping Mrs. Hart in accomplishing other goals she had in mind. She not only loved to fly over the jumps, but she had a passion for planes, and being in the air. Mrs. Hart became Michigan’s first female helicopter pilot. She was a captain in the Civil Air Patrol, and was recommended for astronaut training by a female friend from the Ninety-Nines (an international women’s flying group), at the age of 40. She made the cut, and Mrs. Hart was selected to be part of the U.S. Mercury 13 team.
The Hart family home on the East Bluff was full of activity in the 1950s and 1960s; most of the Hart children rode and showed here and in Virginia (Senator Hart’s official residence was in Washington, D.C.). Their Mackinac cottage was three doors down from my husband’s family home, “Donny Brook.” Between the two places, there were ample youngsters and horses. Sandwiched amid political activities and training for the Mercury program, Mrs. Hart kept a horse in Washington, aptly named “The Senator.” She rode the big chestnut gelding along the Rock Creek Parkway in Maryland. He even spent a summer or two on Mackinac.
When not riding by herself or with her family in the early 1960s, Mrs. Hart would often take (then) Governor John Swainson riding on the Island. The governor was a World War II double amputee, but he loved horses, and loved to ride. Actually Governor Swainson’s affinity for horses, and Mackinac, is another interesting horse tale, but that is for another time. What Mrs. Hart accomplished while “airborne” in all its forms, makes for one incredible woman.
Candice Dunnigan is an active member of the American Equestrian Association, the Water loo Hunt, and Mackinac Horsemen’s Association. Season - ally she resides at Easterly Cottage.