Martha Hartmann

Obituary of Martha Bothfeld Hartmann

Martha B. Hartmann

Devoted to her family, community and to the advancement of civil and human rights in New Jersey


            Martha Bothfeld Hartmann died quickly and peacefully from old age on November 11, 2020 at Stonebridge at Montgomery. She was 97 years old.

            Born in in 1923, Martha had a happy childhood in Wellesley, MA.  She liked to tell stories of how she played ice hockey with her siblings on the neighborhood pond and spent time with her cousins at her grandfather’s farm and by the sea in Duxbury, MA.  In 1941 she entered Smith College where her grandmother had been a member of the first graduating class.  Her college years were profoundly shaped by World War II.  Because of labor shortages, she helped organize students to assist in the harvesting of local crops. In 1942, she joined the Vermont Volunteer Land Corps founded by famous journalist Dorothy Thompson.  She spent the summer working on a small dairy farm in northern Vermont where her main job was to ride the hay rake.  This experience deeply affected her.  She bonded closely with the family she lived with and remained in touch with them for many years.  She took pride in her capacity for hard physical work and from that time on liked wearing a blue-jean jacket.  

“It was a wonderful summer but also one that made me realize the hidden rural poverty that existed in farming communities,” she wrote in a short memoir.  She decided she wanted to work for the Farm Security Administration and did her senior thesis on the subject.  The thesis won Smith’s Government Department prize.  After graduation she embarked on a graduate degree in Agricultural Economics at Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. She left the program to marry Marine Corps Captain Thomas Hartmann when he was back on leave from serving as a dive bomber in the Pacific. 

Martha and Tom had a long and close marriage until his death in 2007.  They met at a party during her senior year at high school.  She was bored and wanted to go home, the story goes, and he looked bored too, so she asked him to walk her home.  From that point until their wedding they saw each other for a total of 20 days.  Their romance blossomed through their war-time correspondence. Both were becoming avid New Deal Democrats and wrote about their changing views.  Throughout their marriage they shared a passion for politics.  When Tom worked as an adviser to Bill Bradley’s first Senate campaign, Martha co-chaired the Princeton campaign office.

With the war’s end, the couple moved to Princeton, NJ where Tom finished his undergraduate degree at the university and then took a teaching and administrative job at the Hun School.  Their three daughters -- Anna, Darcy, and Betsy -- were born in Princeton.  Tom’s career then took the family to Wilmington, Delaware and Dallas, Texas.  In 1963 they moved back to Princeton. Tom left private school education for anti-poverty work in state government and subsequently became a professor at Livingston College and Rutgers University.

Like so many women of her generation, Martha helped build her husband’s career, but she established herself in her own right as a forceful advocate for racial and social justice.  She described herself as a “professional volunteer.”  Martha was a founding member of the Human and Civil Rights Association of New Jersey, the Princeton Youth Center, the Princeton Youth Fund and the Witherspoon-Jackson Development Corporation.  She was also active in the Princeton Area Council of Community Services and the YMCA’s Soupcon and Interim Homes.  She was on the board of the Princeton Nursery School and on the Princeton Committee of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.  For 16 years she proudly served on the board of the Princeton Joint Commission on Civil Rights.  She assisted in the development of the video “The Princeton Plan” honoring the 50th anniversary of the integration of the Princeton elementary schools.  Martha remained political until the very end, casting her ballot in the recent presidential election.  She was especially thrilled to hear of Kamala Harris’ historic victory.

            Martha was known for her graciousness and compassion, and she gave wise counsel to friends and family members of all ages.  At the height of the 1960s generational divide, her daughters’ teenage friends could often be found confiding to her at the kitchen table.  She had a strong aesthetic sense and was an excellent seamstress and gardener.  She also had a wickedly wry sense of humor. 

            Martha was a much beloved grandmother.  Family always came first for her.  In a turbulent world, she was a bedrock of sanity and unconditional love. 

Martha is survived by her daughters, Darcy Hartmann of Monterey, CA, Betsy Hartmann of Amherst, MA, and Anna Wexler of Jamaica Plain, MA; her grandchildren Elizabeth Murtagh, Blakely Simoneau, Jamie and Thomas Hartmann-Boyce, and Jonah Wexler; five great grandchildren; and her son-in-law James K. Boyce of Amherst.  She is also survived by her siblings Laura Tracy of Kennet Square, PA and Henry Bothfeld of Duxbury, MA.

The family would like to thank the staff of Stonebridge at Montgomery, where Martha lived for 17 years, for their kindness and care, and Andrea Didisheim for her help and companionship as Martha’s health declined.  The family is especially grateful to Denise Johnson whose dedication, humor and love brightened the last years of Martha’s life and kept her smiling, laughing and even dancing until the end.

            Because of COVID, a celebration of Martha’s life is being planned for a later date.  Memorial contributions can be made to NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,

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