Siddhesh Joshi (Editor)

Clare Boothe Luce

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President  Dwight D. Eisenhower
Succeeded by  James David Zellerbach
Preceded by  Ellis O. Briggs
Name  Clare Luce
Preceded by  Ellsworth Bunker
President  Dwight D. Eisenhower
Succeeded by  John M. Cabot
Role  Former U.S. Congressman

Died  October 9, 1987, Washington, D.C., United States
Plays  The Women, Abide with Me, Margin for Error
Books  Slam the door softly, Stuffed Shirts, Vanity Fair's Backgammon to Win, Is the New Morality Destroying America?
Movies  The Women, The Opposite Sex, Come to the Stable, Margin for Error
Similar People  Henry Luce, Ann Clare Brokaw, Diane English, Sylvia Jukes Morris, George Tuttle Brokaw

Women in Science and Clare Boothe Luce at Mount Holyoke

Clare Boothe Luce (March 10, 1903 – October 9, 1987) was an American author and politician, and later a US Ambassador. She was the first American woman appointed to a major ambassadorial post abroad. A versatile author, she is best known for her 1936 hit play The Women, which had an all-female cast. Her writings extended from drama and screen scenarios to fiction, journalism, and war reportage. She was the wife of Henry Luce, publisher of Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated.


Politically, Luce became steadily more conservative in later life. In her youth, however, she briefly aligned herself with the liberalism of Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a protege of Bernard Baruch. Although she was a strong supporter of the Anglo-American alliance in World War II, she remained outspokenly critical of the British presence in India. A charismatic and forceful public speaker, especially after her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1946, she campaigned for every Republican presidential candidate from Wendell Willkie to Ronald Reagan.

Longines chronoscope with mrs clare boothe luce

Early life

Luce was born Ann Clare Boothe in New York City on March 10, 1903, the second child of Anna Clara Schneider (a.k.a. Ann Snyder Murphy; a.k.a. Ann Boothe, a.k.a. Ann Clare Austin) and William Franklin Boothe (a.k.a. "John J. Murphy"; a.k.a. "Jord Murfe"). Her parents were not married and would separate in 1912. Her father, a sophisticated man and a brilliant violinist, instilled in his daughter a love of literature, if not of music. But William Boothe had trouble holding down any job, and spent years as a travelling salesman. Parts of young Clare's childhood were spent in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, Chicago, Illinois, and Union City, New Jersey as well as New York City. Clare Boothe had an elder brother, David Franklin Boothe.

She attended the Cathedral schools in Garden City and Tarrytown, New York, graduating first in her class in 1919 at the age of 16. [Source: Clare Boothe Luce, Author and Diplomat, by Joseph Lyons, Chelsey House Publisher, 1989, p 26]. Her ambitious mother's initial plan for her was to become an actress. Clare understudied Mary Pickford on Broadway at age 10, and had a small part in Thomas Edison's 1915 movie, The Heart of a Waif. After a tour of Europe with her mother and stepfather, Dr. Albert E. Austin, whom Ann Boothe married in 1919, she became interested in the women's suffrage movement, and was hired by Alva Belmont to work for the National Woman's Party in Washington, D.C. and Seneca Falls, New York.

Highly intelligent, ambitious, and blessed with a deceptively fragile blonde beauty, the young Clare Boothe soon abandoned ideological feminism to pursue other interests. She wed George Tuttle Brokaw, millionaire heir to a New York clothing fortune, on August 10, 1923, at the age of 20. They had one daughter, Ann Clare Brokaw (August 22, 1924 – January 11, 1944). According to Boothe, Brokaw was a hopeless alcoholic, and the marriage ended in divorce in 1929.

On November 23, 1935, Clare Boothe married Henry Robinson Luce, the publisher of Time, Life, and Fortune. She thereafter called herself Clare Boothe Luce, a frequently-misspelled name that was often confused with that of her exact contemporary Claire Luce, a stage and film actress. As a professional writer, Luce continued to use her maiden name.

On January 11, 1944, her daughter and only child Ann Clare Brokaw, a senior at Stanford University, was killed in an automobile accident. As a result of this tragedy, Luce explored psychotherapy and religion. After grief counseling with radio priest Fulton Sheen she joined the Roman Catholic Church in 1946. She became an ardent essayist and lecturer in celebration of her faith, and was ultimately honored by being named a Dame of Malta.

Marriage to Henry Luce

The marriage between Clare and Henry Luce was difficult. Luce was by any standard extremely successful, but his physical awkwardness, lack of humor, and newsman's discomfort with any conversation that was not strictly factual put him in awe of his beautiful wife's social poise, wit, and fertile imagination. Clare's years as managing editor of Vanity Fair left her with an avid interest in journalism (she suggested the idea of Life magazine to her husband before it was developed internally). Henry Luce himself was generous in encouraging her to write for Life, but the question of how much coverage she should be accorded in Time, as she grew more famous, was always a careful balancing act for Henry since he did not want to be accused of nepotism.

In the early 1960s, both Clare and Henry were friends of philosopher, author, and LSD advocate Gerald Heard. They tried LSD one time under his careful supervision. Although taking LSD never turned into a habit for either of the Luces, a friend of theirs (and biographer of Clare), Wilfred Sheed, wrote that Clare made use of it at least several times.

The Luces stayed together until Henry's death from a heart attack in 1967. As one of the great "power couples" in American history, they were welded by their mutual interests and complementary, if contrasting characters. They treated each other with unfailing respect in public, never more so than when Henry Luce willingly acted as his wife's consort during her years as Ambassador to Italy. She was never able to convert him to Catholicism (he was the son of a Presbyterian missionary) but he did not question the sincerity of her faith, often attended Mass with her, and defended her whenever she was criticized by his fellow Protestants.

In the early years of her widowhood, Clare Boothe Luce retired to the luxurious beach house that she and her husband had planned in Honolulu, but boredom with life in what she called "this fur-lined rut" brought her back to Washington, D.C. for increasingly long periods, and she made her final home there in 1983.

Writing career

A writer with considerable powers of invention and wit, Luce published Stuffed Shirts, a promising volume of short stories, in 1931. Scribner's magazine compared the work to Evelyn Waugh's Vile Bodies for its bitter humor. The New York Times found it socially superficial, but praised its "lovely festoons of epigrams" and beguiling stylishness: "What malice there may be in these pages has a felinity that is the purest Angoran." The book's device of characters interlinked from story to story was borrowed from Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio (1919), but it impressed Andre Maurois, who asked Luce's permission to imitate it. Luce also published many magazine articles. Her real talent, however, was as a playwright.

After the failure of her initial stage effort, the marital melodrama Abide With Me (1935), she rapidly followed up with a satirical comedy, The Women. Deploying a cast of no fewer than forty actresses who discussed men in often scorching language, it became a Broadway smash in 1936 and, three years later, a successful Hollywood movie. Toward the end of her life, Luce claimed that for half a century she had steadily received royalties from productions of The Women all around the world. Later in the 1930s, she wrote two more successful, but less durable plays, also both made into movies: Kiss the Boys Goodbye and Margin for Error. The latter work "presented an all-out attack on the Nazi's racist philosophy" Its opening night in Princeton, New Jersey, on October 14, 1939, was attended by Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. Otto Preminger directed and starred in both the Broadway production and screen adaptation.

Much of Luce's famously acid wit ("No good deed goes unpunished," "Widowhood is a fringe benefit of marriage", "A hospital is no place to be sick") can be traced back to the days when, as a wealthy young divorcee in the early 1930s, she became a caption writer at Vogue and then, associate editor and managing editor of Vanity Fair. She not only edited the works of such great humorists as P. G. Wodehouse and Corey Ford, but contributed many comic pieces of her own, signed and unsigned. Her humor, which she retained into old age, was one of the pillars of Clare's character.

Another branch of Luce's literary career was that of war journalism. Europe in the Spring was the result of a four-month tour of Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and France in 1939–1940 as a correspondent for Life magazine. She described the widening battleground of World War II as "a world where men have decided to die together because they are unable to find a way to live together."

In 1941, Luce and her husband toured China and reported on the status of the country and its war with Japan. Her profile of General Douglas Macarthur was on the cover of Life on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. After the United States entered the war, Luce toured military installations in Africa, India, China, and Burma, compiling a further series of reports for Life. She published interviews with General Harold Alexander, commander of British troops in the Middle East, Chiang Kai-Shek, Jawaharlal Nehru, and General Stilwell, commander of American troops in the China-Burma-India theater.

Her lifelong instinct for being in the right place at the right time and easy access to key commanders made Clare Boothe Luce an influential figure on both sides of the Atlantic. She endured bombing raids and other dangers in Europe and the Far East. She did not hesitate to criticize the unwarlike lifestyle of General Sir Claude Auchinleck's Middle East Command in language that recalled the barbs of her best playwriting. One draft article for Life, noting that the general lived far from the Egyptian front in a houseboat, and mocking RAF pilots as "flying fairies", was discovered by British Customs when she passed through Trinidad in April,1942. It caused such Allied consternation that she briefly faced house arrest. Coincidentally or not, Auchinleck was fired a few months later by Winston Churchill. Her varied experiences in all the major war theaters qualified her for a seat the following year on the House Military Affairs Committee.

Luce never wrote her autobiography. She, however, willed her enormous archive of personal papers to the Library of Congress.

House of Representatives

In 1942, Luce won a Republican seat in the United States House of Representatives representing Fairfield County, Connecticut, the 4th Congressional District. She based her platform on three goals: "One, to win the war. Two, to prosecute that war as loyally and effectively as we can as Republicans. Three, to bring about a better world and a durable peace, with special attention to post-war security and employment here at home." She took up the seat formerly held by her late stepfather, Dr. Albert Austin. An outspoken critic of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's foreign policy, Luce was supported by isolationists and conservatives in Congress, and was appointed early to the prestigious House Military Affairs Committee. Although she was by no means the only female representative on the floor, her beauty, wealth, and penchant for slashing witticisms caused her to be treated patronizingly by colleagues of both sexes. She made a sensational debut in her maiden speech, coining the phrase "globaloney" to disparage Vice President Henry Wallace's recommendation that airlines of the world be given free access to U.S. airports. Her voting record was generally more moderate than was expected by her GOP backers. To help the nation meet its rising war costs, she advocated "taxing the rich almost to the point of constitutional confiscation." She called for repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, comparing its "doctrine of race theology" to Adolf Hitler's, advocated aid for war victims abroad, and sided with the administration on issues such as infant-care and maternity appropriations for the wives of enlisted men. Nevertheless, President Roosevelt took a dislike to Representative Luce, and campaigned in 1944 to prevent her reelection, publicly calling her "a sharp-tongued glamor girl of forty." She gave as good as she got, accusing Roosevelt of being "the only American president who ever lied us into a war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it."

During her second term, Luce was instrumental in the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission and, during the course of two tours of Allied battlefronts in Europe, a campaigner for more support of what she considered to be America's forgotten army in Italy. She was present at the liberation of several Nazi concentration camps in April, 1945, and after V-E Day began warning against the rise of international Communism as another form of totalitarianism, likely to lead to World War III. In 1946, she was the co-author of the Luce-Celler Act of 1946, which increased the numbers of Indians and Filipinos permitted to immigrate to the US (previously limited to only 100 per year), and allowed them ultimately to become naturalized citizens.

Republican National Conventions

Clare Boothe Luce's emergence as a formidable political orator in Congress made her a candidate to deliver the keynote speech at the 1944 Republican National Convention. She did not, however, win that honor, as many reports erroneously state. (Nor was she the first woman to address a national political convention: Corinne Roosevelt Robinson did so in 1920.) Governor Earl Warren of California was ultimately selected as keynote speaker, and Representative Luce was asked to introduce former President Herbert Hoover. After seeing a draft of her proposed remarks, Hoover suggested that he introduce her. Luce's subsequent address invoked an allegorical figure, "G.I. Jim," as "G.I. Joe's" less celebrated comrade-in-arms, a victim of the Roosevelt Administration's tardy preparation for World War II. She reproved President Roosevelt for practicing one-man diplomacy, and claimed that American democracy was "becoming a dictatorial bumbledom". She was rewarded with a vast ovation. The convention nominated Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York for the presidency.

At the Republican National Convention in 1948, Luce delivered a similarly scathing speech, castigating President Harry S. Truman and his administration. [Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, June 22, 1948] E Again the applause was great, but most press comments afterwards were negative. As a passionate convert to Roman Catholicism and dedicated Cold Warrior, Luce was by now moving toward the extreme right of the GOP. Ignoring Luce's clear preference for Senator Arthur Vandenberg as a candidate, the convention renominated Thomas E. Dewey to run against Truman.

Ambassador to Italy

Luce returned to politics during the 1952 presidential election, when she campaigned on behalf of Republican candidate Dwight Eisenhower, giving more than 100 speeches on his behalf. Her anti-Communist speeches on the hustings, radio, and television were effective in persuading a large number of Catholic Democrats to switch parties and vote for Ike. For her contributions Luce was rewarded with an appointment as Ambassador to Italy, a post that oversaw 1,150 employees, 8 consulates, and 9 information centers. She was confirmed by the Senate in March 1953, the first American woman ever to hold such an important diplomatic post.

Italians reacted doubtfully at first to the arrival of a female ambassador in Rome, but Luce soon convinced those of moderate and conservative temper that she favored their civilization and religion. "Her admirers in Italy-and she had millions- fondly referred to her as la Signora, 'the lady'" [Source: CBL, Author and Diplomat, by Joseph Lyons, p. 91] The country's large Communist minority, however, regarded her as a foreign meddler in Italian affairs. She was no stranger to Pope Pius XII, who welcomed her as a friend and faithful acolyte. Over the course of several audiences since 1940, Luce had impressed Pius XII as one of the most effective secular preachers of Catholicism in America.

Her principal achievement as ambassador was to play a vital role in negotiating a peaceful solution to the Trieste Crisis of 1953–1954, a border dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia that she saw as potentially escalating into a war between East and West. Her sympathies throughout were with the Christian Democratic government of Giuseppe Pella, and influential on the Mediterranean policy of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, another religiously driven anti-communist. Although Luce regarded the abatement of the acute phase of the crisis in December, 1953 as a triumph for herself, the main work of settlement, finalized in October 1954, was undertaken by professional representatives of the five concerned powers (Britain, France, the United States, Italy, and Yugoslavia) meeting in London.

As ambassador, Luce consistently overestimated the possibility that the Italian left would mount a governmental coup and restore totalitarian rule, unless the democratic center was buttressed with generous American aid. Nurturing an image of her own country as a haven of social peace and prosperity, she threatened to boycott the 1955 Venice Film Festival if the American juvenile delinquent film Blackboard Jungle was shown. Around the same time she fell seriously ill with arsenic poisoning. Sensational rumors circulated that the ambassador was the target of extermination by agents of the Soviet Union. Medical analysis eventually determined that the poisoning was caused by arsenate of lead in paint dust falling from the stucco that decorated her bedroom ceiling. The episode debilitated Luce physically and mentally, and she resigned her post in December, 1956. Upon her departure, Rome's Il Tempo concluded "She has given a notable example of how well a woman can discharge a political post of grave responsibility." [Source: Clare Boothe Luce: Renaissance Woman, by Daniel Alef]

Ambassador to Brazil

In 1959, President Eisenhower nominated a recovered Luce to be the US Ambassador to Brazil. She began to learn Portuguese in preparation for the job, but she was by now so conservative that her appointment met with strong opposition from a small number of Democratic Senators. Leading the charge was Oregon Senator Wayne Morse. Despite his opposition, Luce was confirmed by a 79 to 11 vote. Her husband urged her to decline the appointment, noting that it would be difficult for her to work with Morse, who chaired the Senate Subcommittee on Latin American Affairs. Luce eventually sent President Eisenhower a letter explaining that she felt that the controversy surrounding her appointment would hinder her abilities to be respected by both her Brazilian and U.S. coworkers, and resigned from her position as ambassador. She had served only four days, from April 28 to May 1, 1959, and never left American soil.

Political life after office

After Fidel Castro led a revolution in Cuba in 1959, Luce and her husband began to sponsor anti-Castro groups. This support included funding exiles in commando speedboat raids against Cuba in the early 1960s. Luce's continuing anti-Communist views, as well as her advocacy of fiscal conservatism, led her to support Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona as the Republican candidate for president in 1964. She also considered, but rejected, a candidacy for the United States Senate from New York on the Conservative party ticket. That same year, which also saw the political emergence of her future friend Ronald Reagan, marked the voluntary end of Henry Luce's tenure as editor-in-chief of Time. The Luces retired together, establishing a winter home in Arizona and planning a final move to Hawaii. Henry Luce died in 1967 before that dream could be realized. But his widow went ahead with construction of a luxurious beach house in Honolulu, and, for some years, led an active life in Hawaii high society.

In 1973, Richard Nixon named Clare Boothe Luce to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB). She remained on the board until President Jimmy Carter succeeded President Gerald Ford in 1977. By then, she had put down roots in Washington, D.C. that would become permanent in her last years. In 1979, she was the first female to be awarded the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy at West Point.

In 1981, the newly inaugurated President Ronald Reagan reappointed Luce to PFIAB. She served on the board until 1983.

Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1983. She was the first female member of Congress to receive this award.

Upon presenting her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, President Reagan said this of Luce:

A novelist, playwright, politician, diplomat, and advisor to Presidents, Clare Boothe Luce has served and enriched her country in many fields. Her brilliance of mind, gracious warmth and great fortitude have propelled her to exceptional heights of accomplishment. As a Congresswoman, Ambassador, and Member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, Clare Boothe Luce has been a persistent and effective advocate of freedom, both at home and abroad. She has earned the respect of people from all over the world, and the love of her fellow Americans.


Luce died of brain cancer on October 9, 1987, at age 84, at her Watergate apartment in Washington, D.C. She is buried at Mepkin Abbey, South Carolina, a plantation that she and Henry Luce had once owned and given to a community of Trappist monks. She lies in a grave adjoining those of her mother, her daughter, and her husband.


Revered in her later years as a heroine of the feminist movement, Luce had mixed feelings about the role of women in society. As a Congresswoman in 1943, she was invited to co-sponsor a submission of the Equal Rights Amendment, offered by Representative Louis Ludlow of Indiana, but claimed that the invitation got lost in her mail. Clare never ceased to advise women to marry and provide supportive homes for their husbands. (During her ambassadorial years, at a dinner in Luxembourg attended by many European dignitaries, Luce was heard declaiming that all women wanted from men was "babies and security.") Yet, her own professional career as a successful editor, writer, playwright, reporter, legislator, and diplomat remarkably showed how a woman of humble origins and no college education could raise herself to an escalating series of public heights. Luce bequeathed a large part of her personal fortune of some $50 million to an academic program, the Clare Boothe Luce Program, designed to encourage the entry of women into technological fields traditionally dominated by men. Because of her determination and unwillingness to let her gender stand in the way of her personal and professional achievements, Clare is considered to be an influential role model by many women. Starting from humble beginnings, Clare never allowed her initial poverty or her male counterparts' lack of respect to keep her from achieving as much if not more than many of the men surrounding her.

Clare Boothe Luce Program

Since 1989, the Clare Boothe Luce Program (CBL) has become a significant source of private funding support for women in science, mathematics, and engineering. All awards must be used exclusively in the United States (not applicable for travel or study abroad). Student recipients must be U.S. citizens and faculty recipients must be citizens or permanent residents. Thus far, the program has supported more than 1,500 women.

The terms of the bequest require the following criteria:

  1. at least fifty percent of the awards go to Roman Catholic colleges or universities, and
  2. grants are made only to four-year degree-granting institutions, not directly to individuals.

The program is divided into three distinct categories:

  1. undergraduate scholarships and research awards,
  2. graduate and post-doctoral fellowships, and
  3. term support for tenure-track appointments at the assistant or associate professorship level.

Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute

The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute was founded in 1993 by Michelle Easton. The non-profit think tank seeks to advance American women through conservative ideas and espouses much the same philosophy as Clare Boothe Luce, both in terms of foreign policy and domestic policy.

Clare Boothe Luce Heritage Foundation Award

The Clare Boothe Luce Award, established in 1991 in memory of Luce, is the Heritage Foundation's highest award for distinguished contributions to the conservative movement. Prominent recipients include Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and William F. Buckley Jr.


  • 1935 Abide with Me
  • 1936 The Women
  • 1938 Kiss the Boys Goodbye
  • 1939 Margin for Error
  • 1951 Child of the Morning
  • 1970 Slam the Door Softly
  • Screen Stories
  • 1949 Come to the Stable
  • Books
  • 1931 Stuffed Shirts
  • 1940 Europe in the Spring
  • 1952 Saints for Now (editor)
  • Quotes

    Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount
    A man has only one escape from his old self: to see a different self in the mirror of some woman's eyes
    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'


    Clare Boothe Luce Wikipedia