Clare Boothe Luce - Feminist Pioneer

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One of the most interesting people I've ever researched is, no doubt, Clare Boothe Luce.  She is best known as a two-term Congresswoman from Connecticut.  Her life was anything but average, as you will see as you read on.


Ann Clare Boothe  was born on March 10, 1903 to William Boothe and Anna Snyder in New York City. Boothe was the son of a Baptist minister and Anna was a Roman Catholic.  He was also related to the theatrical Booth family (Edwin and John Wilkes), but the family added an "e" to the end of the last name after the Lincoln assassination.  Her father was a violinist and executive of the Boothe Piano Company.  Clare was the second child born to the couple.  They were never married and separated in 1912.  William left when Clare was 8 in 1911 to pursue his career as a violinist.  Clare was haunted by her "illegitamacy" throughout her entire life.  

Once the father left, the family was destitute.  Clare moved all around the country during her childhood, and spent time in Memphis, Nashville, Chicago, New Jersey and New York City with friends and relatives. Her mother had to go to work and she even put Clare to work as a child actor.  Clare's stage name was "Joyce Fair".   It's interesting to note that she studied under actress Mary Pickford at age 10, and had a small part in an Edison movie in 1915.  She also appeared in a summer stock production of "Candida" in Connecticut. 

When her mother, Anna, could afford it, she sent her daughter to private schools.  She didn't like to send her to public school.  This meant there were lapse in her education.  However, Anna homeschooled her daughter and she must have done an exceptional job as Clare excelled.

She attended St. Mary's School in Garden City, NY,(1914 to 1917) and Miss Mason's School at Tarrytown-on-the-Hudson.  Clare graduated early in 1919 at the age of 15.  Not only was she the youngest student in their history, but she also graduated magnum cum laude.

Clare and her mother moved to Sound Beach (Old Greenwich).  Clare worked for the local chapter of the American Red Cross during her summers.  Her mother encouraged her to "marry well", meaning marry someone wealthy.  Clare was taught that a wife should be supportive of her husband and keep a loving home.   Mrs. Boothe set an example by marrying Dr. Albert E. Austin.  The family moved to North Street in Greenwich.

After Clare graduated in 1919, she moved to a boardinghouse in Manhattan.  She worked in a candy factory to support herself (possibly waiting to get into show business) until she had an attack of appendicitis.  This resulted in her moving back home to Greenwich to recuperate.

On a trip to war torn Europe in 1921, Clare and her family saw the destruction and despair wrought by World War I. Surprisingly, she was able to write a book on the deplorable conditions in only six weeks!   At this point, she decided to enroll in the School of Journalism at Columbia University.  Unfortunately, she was too young to be admitted!   She never attended or graduated from college.


On the voyage back to the United states, Clare met Ms. Alva Erskine Belmont, a Manhattan socialite who helped fund Women's Suffrage. Clare decided to work for   the National Women's Party in Washington DC and Seneca Falls NY.   At age 18, she was introduced to George Brokaw, a millionaire heir to a New York clothing empire, whom she married.  She was just 20-years-old while Brokaw was 43!  They had a daughter - Ann Clare - born the year after.  Unfortunately, Brokaw turned out to be a hopeless alcoholic and the couple were divorced in 1929.  At this time, she realized her dream of becoming a journalist by working for Vogue magazine.  By 1931 she was associate editor of Vanity Fair.  Clare published her first book Stuffed Shirts in 1932, and was appointed managing editor of Vanity Fair in 1933.  Apparently, her first love was writing because she resigned in 1934 to become a newspaper correspondent in Europe.

In 1935, she met and married Henry R. Luce, editor-in-chief of Time, Life and Fortune magazines.  They settled in Greenwich.  The following year, Clare wrote a play titled The Women.  It was a satire on men and bored, pretentious wealthy women. This became a great hit, running in New York for 82 weeks, playing leading in cities across the country and 16 foreign countries, and being translated into 9 languages.  She also wrote Kiss the Boys Goodbye and  Margin for Error, which was a successful anti-Nazi play in 1939.

It's been said that "politics make strange bedfellows".  At one time, Clare Boothe Luce was a proponent of the Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt's liberalism, and was even a protege of financier and Presidential advisor Bernard Baruch. (She was also friends with the Kennedys, but kept a "low profile" during the 1960 elections.) She held moderate views on civil rights, immigration and discrimination of women in the workplace.  In 1942, she was elected to a Republican seat in the United States House of Representatives for the Second District in Connecticut.  She served from 1943 to 1947, and became an outspoken crtic of Roosevelt.  Clare was appointed to the House Military Affairs Committee.  She lobbied for aid to war victims abroad, and sought support for maternity and infant care for dependents of servicemen.  Clare was a proponent of taxing the rich to meet the rising costs of war.  She supported the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act, which prohibited Chinese workers from immigrating to protect US jobs.  Furthermore, she supported the Anglo-American Alliance during World War II, but was critical of British presence in India.

Unfortunately, her one and only child, daughter Ann Clare Brokaw, died in an automobile accident on January 11, 1944, while enrolled at Stanford University in California.  This had a profound affect on her life.  Clare delved into psychotherapy and converted to Catholicism.  Her work on behalf of the faith resulted in her being named a Dame of Malta. 

Clare Luce was very productive as a Congresswoman from Connecticut.  She was instrumental in creating the Atomic Energy Commission.  During World War II, she toured Allied battlefields in Europe twice, and was present at the liberation of several Nazi concentration camps. In 1945, she proposed a plan to help Europe get on its feet after the war.  This plan was overlooked, but the idea resurfaced as the Marshall Plan.   Early on, Clare foresaw the threat of Communism, which she said could lead to World War III.  She co-authored the Luce-Celler Act in 1946, which allowed Indians and Filipinos to immigrate to the United States.  Clare was a proponent for an international mechanism to maintain and establish peace.  This resulted in the later creation of the United Nations and NATO. 

Her legislative output was very impressive.  Clare helped draft legislation to rewrite immigration quotas,  help veterans get civil service jobs, study profit-sharing to prevent strikes,  get physicians tax breaks for charity work, ban racial discrimination, promote  science research and establish popular election of representatives to the UN.

In 1947, Clare Boothe Luce decided to relinquish her seat in Congress.  This doesn't mean she dropped out of public service.  Clare campaigned for Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1952, just like she had done for Wendell Wilkie in 1940.  She spoke at several Republican National Conventions. She was the first woman assigned to an ambassadorship to a major world power as Ambassador of Italy.  In this capacity, she brokered a peaceful solution to the Trieste Crisis (1953-1954) - a border dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia. 

In 1955, Clare was diagnosed with arsenic poisoning.  Rumors circulated that the Soviet Union had attempted to exterminate her!  Subsequent investigation determined her poisoning was the result of paint peeling from a ceiling.  Nonetheless, Clare resigned her ambassadorship in 1956. 

After Castro took over in Cuba in 1959, she got involved with sponsoring anti-Castro groups, and even funded exiles in commando speedboat raids.  She supported Barry Goldwater in his unsuccessful Presidential bid.  Once again she was nominated for a diplomatic position as Ambassador to Brazil.  She had to learn Portuguese in a short period of time.   Unfortunately, she withdrew her name after 4 days due to some ugly confirmation hearings.  In 1973, she was appointed to the President's Foreign Policy Advisory Board.

Ms. Luce was the recipient of many awards.  She was the first female to receive the Sylvanus Thayer Award by the United States Military Academy in.  In 1983 she was the first woman in Congress to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

At this point, she and her husband retired for good.  They wintered in Arizona and had a home built in Hawaii.  Her husband never made it to Hawaii, since he passed away in 1967.  Clare was able to enjoy several years in Hawaii.  On October 9,1987, she died from brain cancer at the Watergate Apartments in Washington DC.  She was buried in South Carolina.

In her honor, the Clare Boothe Luce Program was created in 1989 to provide private funding for women studying science, math or engineering.  Fifteen-hundred women have benefited from this fund. The Clare Boothe Luce Heritage Foundation Award was developed in 1991 to recognize those who were working to further conservative causes. The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute was founded in 1993 as a non-profit think tank to instill conservative ideas and advance women causes.

If you consider the social climate in which Clare Boothe Luce lived, she was indeed a trendsetter and a great role model for women in journalism, theater and politics.  Whether she consciously set out to do it or not, she broke down many of the social barriers to women.  Clare was intelligent, innovative, creative and courageous.  She was also independent and unpredictable. Yet, she was admired by both political parties. 

When the first woman is elected President, she will owe a great deal to this feminist pioneer. 


Who's Who in Greenwich: Mrs. Henry R. Luce;  The Greenwich Time; Nov. 24, 1942

 MacFarland, Susan: Great Lives from History: Twentieth Century - Clare Boothe Luce; September 2008, Pages 1-3.  Accessed on 10/18/2013 at:






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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Carl White published on October 17, 2013 8:58 AM.

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