Clare Boothe Luce, 1903-1987

  • Clare-Boothe-Luce-WWP

Woman Category: Media, Politics & Leaders, and Theater & CinemaWoman Tags: Author, Congresswoman, NYC Women, and Playwright

  • HerStory

    The first woman from Connecticut to be elected to US Congress, the first woman appointed to a major ambassadorial post abroad, an author, and a playwright.

    Ann Clare Boothe Luce was born and raised in NYC. Her mother wanted her to become an actress, and from the age of 10, she studied at Mary Pickford on Broadway, playing first in Broadway by the age of 11. At the age of 20, she married George Tuttle Brokaw, a millionaire heir who was 23 years older than her. They had one daughter before they got divorced.
    At 27 years old, Luce started to work at Vogue as a caption writer, and later as associate editor, managing editor, and column writer at Vanity Fair. In 1931, she published her first book, a volume of short stories titled “Stuffed Shirts.” In 1935, her first playwright, “Abide with Me,” was staged but failed. Soon after, she wrote the satirical comedy, “The Women,” with an all-female cast of 40 characters. This pioneer play was a Broadway hit and soon was adapted into a movie. Following the success, she wrote two more plays that were adapted into movies – Kiss the Boys Goodbye and Margin for Error.
    At the age of 32, she married Henry Luce, the publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune. In 1939, when WW2 has erupted, she traveled to Europe as a correspondent for Life magazine. In 1941, she and her husband went to China to report on the status of the war with Japan. When the US entered the war, Luce visited military installations in Africa, China, India, and Burma.
    In 1942, at the age of 39, Luce won a seat representing Connecticut in the US House of Representatives, the first woman from Connecticut to be elected to Congress. During her term, she called for the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, advocated aid for war victims abroad, and lobbied for issues such as infant-care, maternity appropriations for the wives of enlisted men, the Equal Rights Amendment, and the development of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She was a member of the House Military Affairs Committee and had a pivotal role in creating the Atomic Energy Commission. She co-authored the Luce–Celler Act of 1946 to permit Filipinos and Indians permission to immigrate to the US, and she proposed a bill to create a Labor Department bureau to ensure equal pay for equal work for women and minorities.
    In 1944, her 19 years old daughter, Ann Clare Brokaw, died in a car accident. Dealing with the tragedy, she began to explore religion and received into the Roman Catholic Church. She did not run for re-election.
    When WW2 ended, Luce became a loud advocate against international Communism. During the presidential election of 1952, she campaigned on behalf of Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower, giving more than 100 speeches nationwide. Thanks for her contribution, she was appointed as the US ambassador to Italy – the first American woman to serve in a major ambassadorial post abroad. She resigned from her position after three years due to arsenic poisoning that impacted her physically and mentally.
    In 1973 Luce was appointed by President Nixon to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. She remained on the board until 1977, and then again in 1981, was appointed by President Reagan. In 1983, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the first female Congress member to receive the award. Three years later, at the age of 84, she died of brain cancer.

    “If God had wanted us to think with our wombs, why did he give us a brain?”

    “If God had wanted us to think with our wombs, why did he give us a brain?”


    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • Her parents were not married and separated when she was 9.
    • In 1939 she commissioned Frida Kahlo to paint a portrait of the late socialite Dorthy Hale. Kahlo produced The Suicide Of Dorthy Hale, but Luce was appalled and wanted to destroy it. Today, the painting is on display at the Phoenix Art Museum.
    • She described her experiences from WW2 in the book “Europe in the Spring.”
    • As a memorial to her daughter, she funded the construction of a Catholic church in Palo Alto.
    • She wrote and coined the phrase, “No good deed goes unpunished.”
    • She was present at the liberation of several Nazi concentration camps.
    • She learned Portuguese in preparation for her position as US Ambassador to Brazil.
    • In 1959, after the revolution in Cuba, she and her husband sponsored anti-communist groups.
    • The Clare Boothe Luce Program is named in her honor.
    • The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute is named in her honor.
    • The Clare Boothe Luce Award is named in her memory.
  • More About Her Legacy

    * Named a Dame of Malta
    * The Laetare Medal by the University of Notre Dame (1957)
    * The first woman to be awarded the Sylvanus Thayer Award (1979)
    * The Presidential Medal of Freedom (1983)
    * The Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement (1986)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • Clare Boothe Luce - American Catholic History

    In her life, Clare Boothe Luce was a Congresswoman, ambassador, playwright, war correspondent, and advisor to presidents. Tom and Noëlle Crowe tell us how this remarkable woman went from a dissolute socialite to a woman of deep Catholic faith brought about by a personal tragedy that caused her to re-encounter Christ.

  • A sculpture of Clare Boothe Luce by Jo Davidson, presented at the National Portrait Gallery. Photo credit - WWP team