When Clare Boothe Luce was elected to the United States Congress in 1942 as a representative from Connecticut, she was already well known for her intelligence, wit, ambition and sense of adventure. A noted author, editor, and playwright, Luce brought her formidable energies to the House of Representatives, serving the Fourth Congressional District for two terms while shattering stereotypes about women in politics and government.
Clare Boothe was born in New York City to ex-chorus girl Anna Clara Snyder and itinerant violinist William Franklin Boothe. William Boothe deserted the family when Clare was only eight, leaving both Clare and her younger brother to know poverty first-hand. Blessed with intelligence and an ambitious mother, Clare Boothe was sent to the best schools her mother could afford, where she excelled academically and was able to create professional networks. In 1919, her mother married a well-known physician from Greenwich, which further brought young Boothe into prominent social circles. In 1923, Clare Boothe married millionaire George Brokaw, who was 23 years her senior. After the birth of one daughter, the marriage ended in divorce in 1929. Despite a generous settlement, she was determined to prove that she was not an idle socialite and went to work for Vogue magazine as a photo caption writer. After being hired to work at Vanity Fair, she began by writing satirical pieces about society, before ultimately becoming the magazine’s managing editor in 1934.
In November 1935, Clare Boothe married Henry Luce, the founder and publisher of Time, Life, Sports Illustrated and Fortune magazines. She had already authored several unsuccessful plays when her breakout Broadway hit, The Women, was produced in 1936, and she went on to write and produce several other commercial successes. After the onset of World War II, Luce traveled to England to write first-hand accounts of the war in Europe. Her long-time interest in politics, as well as the belief that President Roosevelt had mishandled the war, led her to enthusiastically support Wendell Wilkie in his 1940 campaign for President.
Two years later, with the encouragement of Connecticut Republican leaders, Luce announced her candidacy for the Congress to represent the Fourth District, an area that included Greenwich, where she had a home. She easily defeated the incumbent by 7,000 votes, becoming the first woman to represent Connecticut in the U.S. House of Representatives. While in Congress, she was named to the powerful Committee on Military Affairs. Throughout her two terms in office, she attacked President Roosevelt’s foreign policy and management of the war effort. As the war ended, Luce issued a warning about the threat of aggression from the Soviet Union. She was also an advocate for the Equal Rights Amendment and the racial integration of the armed forces.
Following the death of her only daughter in an automobile accident, Luce chose not to seek a third term in Congress. However, she remained politically active, offering her energetic support to General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidential campaign in 1952. After his election, Luce was offered the post of Secretary of Labor, which she declined. She was subsequently named Ambassador to Italy and became the first woman ambassador to a major country. As ambassador, Luce helped settle a dispute that threatened war between Yugoslavia and Italy.
Luce retired from public life in 1964, living in Hawaii until the death of her husband in 1967. She served as an unpaid member of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board under Presidents Nixon, Ford and Reagan and was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan in 1983. Upon her death in 1987, former President Richard Nixon, reflecting on Luce’s long and storied career and larger-than-life personality, commented simply that “she broke the mold in so many ways.”
The Clare Boothe Luce Program of the Henry Luce Foundation provides funding to four-year colleges and universities to “encourage women to enter, study, graduate and teach” in mathematics, engineering, and science. Founded in 1993, The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute works to connect, encourage, engage and inform conservative women from around the country. In both programs, Clare Boothe Luce’s ambition and legacy continue, reaching new generations.
During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times
The Cold War in the 1950s between the Soviet Union and the United States produced fear of domestic subversion. The McCarthy Era purged suspected Communists from government, the entertainment industry, and universities, and labeled gays and lesbians as un-American security risks. General anxiety contributed to a popular conception of the family as a source of social stability, and reinforced traditional notions of women’s place at home. In 1963, Betty Friedan called this promise of fulfillment through the domestic arts the “feminine mystique,” and advocated instead that women seek personal careers.
For two decades, a burgeoning economy and a growing consumer culture had expanded the availability of jobs for women. Notable was the increase in the workforce of married women, especially middle-class white women and educated women, though they were viewed in the media as working less for a career than to assist their families with needed income or desirable amenities for the home.
Some working-class women in labor unions challenged traditional cultural norms, such as the United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers who achieved non-discrimination clauses in local contracts. Middle-class women moderated their interest in women’s issues, promoting instead advancement through the League of Women Voters, YWCA, and the American Association of University Women. More radical women in Women Strike for Peace demonstrated against the nuclear arms race and were summoned to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1962. Many activists would join the Civil Rights Movement.
The movement against segregation following World War II dates from the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that segregated schools are inherently unequal and thus a violation of the 14th amendment. African-Americans were given new hope, and in 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, triggered a bus boycott of critical importance. Black women and white women took part in boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, and marches. A culminating achievement in 1965 was the Voting Rights Act pushed through by President Johnson.
Mexican-Americans in the southwest also fought to improve their life and work conditions. In 1962, Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, played a leading role in organizing a national boycott of grapes that forced growers to sign a contract with the union.
Other ethnic groups were soon to come to America, enriching its diversity. The Immigrant and Nationality Act of 1965 established an immigration system based on family preference. Half of the new immigrants came from Mexico and Central and South America, while a quarter were from Asia. Two-thirds of the immigrants were women and children. While poverty and acculturation were issues, for many the time-honored American process of upward social mobility had begun.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.