My first experience of Clare Boothe Luce was her toast to Eleanor Roosevelt at Mrs. Roosevelt’s 70th birthday party, “Here’s to Eleanor. No woman has ever so comforted the distressed, or so distressed the comfortable.”
I was smitten. Who was this woman who conceived such an eloquent epigram, encapsulating the essence of Mrs. Roosevelt’s life works? I had to know more!
Ah, the power of reading! I learned that Ms. Luce was an American writer, politician, U.S. ambassador, and public conservative figure. Ah, but she was so much more. I learned that Clare Boothe Luce was born on March 10, 1903, in New York city to William Boothe and Ann Clare Snyder. Both of her parents were involved in the theater, and to help pay the bills, young Clare performed in several plays and did not begin her formal schooling until she was 12. As she grew and matured, Ms. Luce became known for her intelligence, wit, and a knack for publicity that, along with her celebrity and beauty, made her a media darling.
As a young adult, Clare set her sights on writing, the publishers of Condé Nast hired her at Vogue. By 1933 she served as the managing editor at Nast’s Vanity Fair magazine. On November 21, 1935, Clare Boothe married Henry R. Luce, founder of Time, Life, and Fortune magazines. Shortly thereafter Clare Boothe Luce came into her own as a successful playwright.
In 1936 she wrote a Broadway hit, The Women, a satire about the lives of Manhattan socialites that features an all-female cast. The play was made into a movie in 1939 starring Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford (and was remade in 2008, featuring Meg Ryan and Annette Bening).
Clare began to develop an interest in politics during the Great Depression. When war broke out in Europe, she toured the world as a Life correspondent and reported on countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa and interviewed such famous people as Nehru and Chiang Kai-Shek.
Her first active participation in Republican politics came with her energetic support of Wendell Willkie’s 1940 presidential campaign. By 1942, Connecticut political leaders lobbied Luce to run for a U.S. House seat encompassing Fairfield County and the wealthy town of Greenwich, where Luce had a home. Luce based her platform on three goals: “One, to win the war. Two, to prosecute that war as loyally and effectively as we can. Three, to bring about a better world and a durable peace, with special attention to postwar security and employment here at home.”
Luce won a Connecticut U.S. House seat in 1942, despite never having stood for elective office. She served in the House of Representatives for two terms, the 78th Congress (1943–1945), and the 79th Congress (1945–1947). Though she was critical of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR), Luce’s internationalist bent led her to back the broad outlines of the administration’s plans for the postwar world. She once described her philosophy as, “America first, but not only.” And, despite her status as a leading GOP spokesperson, Luce voted to support the general outlines of FDR’s foreign policy.
On domestic policy, Congresswoman Luce was centrist. In 1943 she supported the Equal Rights Amendment on the twentieth anniversary of its introduction in the House. Luce also endorsed the development of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps, arguing that, “We have always been fighting women and never afraid to do our part.” She advocated a heavy wartime tax on the rich: “those who can afford it, the well-to-do and the rich, must be taxed almost to the constitutional point of confiscation.”
Republican Party leaders selected Luce as the keynote speaker at the 1944 Republican National Convention in Chicago, the first woman so honored by either party.
In 1946 Luce introduced a bill to create a Labor Department bureau to ensure women and minority workers equal pay for equal work. Clare Boothe Luce became the first woman ambassador ever appointed to a major diplomatic post. Luce left Italy in 1956 after suffering arsenic poisoning, and in 1959 she was nominated to be Ambassador to Brazil.
In 1973, Richard Nixon named Luce to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. President Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the first woman member of Congress to receive the award.
Clare Boothe Luce died in Washington, DC on October 9, 1987 at age 84 having left her mark on our world, having blazed new trails for the women who would follow stand on her shoulders. She has left us a legacy of strong and sturdy shoulders.