Women in Government: Clare Boothe Luce

In 2008 Meg Ryan remade a 1939 Norma Shearer film, “The Women.” Both of these films were incredibly unique in that no man appeared on the screen. The film is based on a stage play written by Clare Boothe Luce. However, being a playwright was only one career of this incredible woman.

Clare Boothe Luce was born Ann Clare Boothe on April 10th, 1903 in New York City. Her parents were bohemian artists and her childhood was spent roaming around the United States. Her parents (who never married each other) separated when Clare was 9. At the age of 10 she was understudied Mary Pickford in a broadway play. In her 20’s she worked at Vogue and eventually became the managing editor at Vanity Fair. She left Vanity Fair to pursue a career as a playwright and in 1935 married Time Publisher Henry Robinson Luce.

In 1919 her mother married Dr. Albert E. Austin a future member of the United States House of Representatives serving from Connecticut’s 4th District from 1939-41. Austin was defeated for re-election in 1940, losing to Democratic Candidate and Norwalk City Clerk LeRoy Downs. In 1942, Clare Boothe Luce defeated Downs for re-election. She was re-elected in 1944 barely defeating Connecticut Deputy Secretary of State Margaret Connors. She was known for her strong anti-communist views and became openly critical of FDR’s concession to Joseph Stalin’s hold on Eastern Europe. She is also known for helping to create the US Atomic Energy Commission.

She opted not to seek re-election in 1944, but continued to stay active in Republican politics. In 1948 she addressed the Republican Convention, and in 1952 actively campaigned for General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign. In 1953 President Eisenhower appointed Luce United States Ambassador to Italy, making her the first woman US Chief of Mission to a major foreign power. Her greatest accomplishment was the settlement of Trieste, a city on the Adriatic that both Italy and Yugoslavia claimed. She resigned from her Ambassadorship in 1957. In 1959 Eisenhower appointed her US Ambassador to Brazil, however she resigned her post three days after being confirmed due to very public argument with Senator Wayne Morse D-Oregon.

The Luce’s retired to Honolulu where Henry died in 1967. Clare Boothe Luce once again entered the political realm in 1981 when President Reagan appointed her to the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In 1983, Luce would become the first woman member of Congress to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She died of brain cancer in 1987.

Luce was an outspoken, sharp tongued renaissance woman – who knew the capabilities of her sex and understood the climb that was ahead of her. Commenting on her political career – “Because I am a woman, I must make unusual efforts to succeed. If I fail, no one will say, ‘She doesn’t have what it takes’; They will say, ‘Women don’t have what it takes'”. The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, a conservative women’s think tank, is named for her.

Further Reading on Clare Boothe Luce:

Women in Congress Biography

Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute

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