Jane Tyson Clement was born on October 1, 1917, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Though she lived there until she was nineteen (her father worked at Columbia University), she was never truly at home in the city but preferred Bay Head, New Jersey, where the family owned a summer house.
After graduating from the Horace Mann School in 1935, Jane went on to Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where among other things she studied poetry under Grace Hazard Conkling. Scholar Howard Patch, whose lectures on Chaucer often digressed into conversations about faith, influenced her too. Jane left Smith in1939 with a degree in English, but she felt her real education still lay ahead. Privately she yearned to move beyond the “frivolous, self-centered side of my nature…and to do something – anything – about the unfair treatment of workers, the hoarding of wealth in the hands of a few…and the prejudicial notion of the superiority of the white race.”
Eventually this search led her to God, though first through disillusionment and confusion, and the frustrating recognition that the world’s evil was as deeply embedded within organized Christianity as in secular life. Nevertheless, she found herself increasingly drawn into the quest for spiritual truth, particularly after reading the Journal of George Fox, which she discovered in a class on comparative religion.
World War II brought a series of teaching jobs in Pennsylvania, first at Germantown Friends, a private academy where she worked as an intern, and later at the Shippen School for Girls in Lancaster. It also brought marriage to Robert Allen Clement, a Quaker attorney and fellow pacifist.
In 1942 the Clements settled in Haddonfield, New Jersey. Bob practiced law in nearby Philadelphia, while Jane busied herself as a housewife and mother (they eventually had seven children) and did work for their local Friends Meeting, the Arch Street Yearly Meeting, and the American Friends Service Committee, a humanitarian organization. With one new responsibility after another, the demands on her time grew continually, and she began to feel pulled in all directions. Worse, she grew conscious of a nagging doubt that something about all her worthy activities was radically wrong: “Some subtle shift in base was necessary to jar the whole structure of my life into its God-given place.”
In late 1952 the Clements came into contact with the Bruderhof (“place of brothers”), a Christian community movement with origins in Europe. Soon afterward they opened their home to itinerant members from the movement’s South American base. Externally, the Bruderhof was a far cry from the Clements’ milieu. Of one couple they hosted, Heinrich and Annemarie Arnold, Jane wrote, “They were obviously poor, obviously different as night and day from middle-class America…But their simplicity, warmth, naturalness, and self-effacement were like a refreshing wind.” And their insistence on countering materialism and war not with words but by practicing voluntary community of goods offered a convincing – if unexpected– answer to her and Bob’s growing frustration with the deadening complacency of post-war suburbia.
In late 1954 the Clements packed their belongings, put their house on the market, and moved to Woodcrest, the Bruderhof’s new center in Rifton, New York. (They had already tested communal life during a visit to one of the group’s South American settlements some months before.) Jane found fulfillment in her work as a teacher at Bruderhof schools in New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and England, where her passion for literature and history left its mark on an entire generation of students. In artistic terms, her continued seeking found an outlet in the never-ending search for a new image or an apt turn of phrase with which to capture a longing, a struggle, or an illuminating moment.