Gaylord Nelson Papers, 1954-2006 (bulk 1963-1980)

 
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Biography/History

Perennial Wisconsin political candidate William Osborne Hart was horn in Chicago on May 15, 1912. Although never successful as a political candidate, Hart was highly regarded for his dedication to Socialist principles and for the civility and intelligence he brought to political discourse in Wisconsin.

Hart attended public schools in Chicago, withdrawing at age 15 to become an apprentice printer for the Chicago Daily News. After completing his high school education by attending evening school, Hart attended St. Olaf's College for two years.

Although his boyhood home was apolitical, Hart himself stated that he could not recall a time when he had not been a socialist. Hart's adult life reflects both the trade union and religious sources of American socialism. In addition to his work as a printer, he was employed as a lithographer and a metal worker for the Pullman Company. In these capacities Hart was active in the Metal Polishers, Buffers, and Platers Union, the International Web Printing Pressmen, the United Typographical Workers, the United Steelworkers, and the Amalgamated Lithographers unions, and he was a delegate to the Chicago Federation of Labor. Later Hart was active in organizing drives for the Boot and Shoe Workers in Maine, and he served as president of Typographical Union Local #197 in Janesville, Wisconsin (circa 1960).

While living in Chicago, Hart attended the Chicago Training School for Missions (later the Garrett Biblical Institute). Subsequently he worked at the Marcy Center Settlement House in Chicago and served Episcopal missions in Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Carolina. During World War II Hart gave up his religious draft exemption to become an American Field Service ambulance driver with the 8th British Army in Africa. After several bouts of malaria Hart returned to Wisconsin in 1943. During the 1950s Hart continued his religious education at Bangor Theological Seminary. In the early 1970s he served as a lay minister to the First Congregational Church in Baraboo.

During the course of his missionary studies Hart met Ruth Haseltine. They married in 1932, and in 1933 they settled in Sauk County, Wisconsin, where Hart worked as a printer. The Harts were the parents of three children: Romella, Pierre, and Holbert.

Hart was a leader of the Farm Holiday in Sauk County, and in 1934 he began his long electoral career when he declared his candidacy for Sauk County clerk of court. In 1935 he ran for the county board on the Socialist ticket. After returning from World War II he ran for sheriff in 1944 and for the Wisconsin Assembly in 1946. After advancing to a position of leadership in the state party, Hart became the socialists' candidate for lieutenant governor in 1948. In 1949 he ran for the Wisconsin Supreme Court despite the fact that he was not an attorney. In 1950 Hart was the socialists' gubernatorial candidate. During this campaign he circulated the Baraboo Petition, which called on the Soviet Union to oust the Stalinist regime. However, Hart's total in this election was so low that the Socialist Party lost its ballot status. As a result, until 1982 Hart's name appeared on the Wisconsin ballot as an independent candidate.

During the 1950s the Harts moved to Maine. After returning to Wisconsin and settling in Madison in 1958 he resumed his political activity, running for the Madison City Council in 1961 and the school board in 1962. In 1965 he was a candidate for mayor. During this period Hart was also chairman of the Socialist Party of Wisconsin, and he frequently represented the party at legislative hearings on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, and the Vietnam War. In 1962 Hart ran for the U.S. Senate on a peace platform. In 1970 he was the socialists' candidate for governor, and four years later he ran again. The League of Women Voters initially excluded Hart from participation in their candidate forums in 1974, but his insistence on equal time in the televised debates eventually brought Hart to the attention of a large statewide audience. In 1975 he ran in a special election for the Assembly. In 1976 he ran for both the U.S. Senate and the Sauk Prairie School Board.

During the 1970s Hart was affiliated with the wing of the Socialist Party known as Socialist Party-USA (SPUSA). But when radical leftists took control of the party's Wisconsin convention in 1978 Hart resigned. In an attempt to reorient socialism to his belief in social change through the electoral ballot Hart organized the Wisconsin Democratic Socialists. In 1982 Hart became involved with a group of Wisconsin political activists interested in forming a new political party. The new Labor and Farm Party selected him as its first chairman, and he ran as its candidate for the U.S. Senate in the 1982 election. In this campaign Hart received endorsements from three labor unions and over 21,000 votes. As a result, Hart gained ballot status for the LFP in the 1984 election. The party selected Hart to head their slate in the 1984 Presidential primary, but when the Election Board ruled that he was not a widely recognized candidate, the party had to go to court in order to secure this position. Ultimately, Hart broke with the LFP leadership and did not appear on the general election ballot. The last of Hart's 25 campaigns was a special election for the Assembly in 1992.

In 1980 Hart was selected as a member of the board of the Citizens Utility Board and in 1981 he was designated as a Wisconsin representative to the White House Conference on Aging. Other organizations with which he was affiliated included the American League for Free Palestine (for which he was the Midwest director), the American Veterans League, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Negro American Labor Council (of which he was a founder), the Wisconsin Committee Against Peacetime Conscription, and the Workers Defense League.

William Osborne Hart died at age 85 on August 22, 1997.