March 10: Clare Boothe Luce, Connecticut’s Extraordinary First Congresswoman

 

Connecticut’s first congresswoman, Clare Boothe Luce, was one of the most professionally-accomplished women of her time.  Born Ann Clare Boothe on March 10, 1903, her parents instilled in her a love of music and the performing arts. After acting in a few minor theater roles as a young adult, she married New York City millionaire George Brokaw at the age of twenty.  Although that marriage ended in divorce only six years later, Clare Boothe had by then been thoroughly welcomed into prominent social circles.  The attractive young socialite soon landed herself a notable job as a writer for Vogue and then Vanity Fair magazine, where she worked her way up to managing editor.  She next applied her creative talents toward the performing arts again, and became an accomplished playwright with several Broadway productions and even feature films to her name.

Clare Boothe Luce in 1935. (Library of Congress)

After marrying publishing magnate Henry Luce in 1935 and moving to Greenwich, Clare resumed her role as a top-notch magazine writer. When World War II broke out in Europe, she traveled extensively overseas as a war correspondent for Time, Life, and other notable publications.  During that time, she decided to run for Congressional office as a Republican, representing her home district of Fairfield County.  Despite having never held political office before, her charisma and talent for public speaking swept her to victory in 1942, becoming the first woman to represent Connecticut in Congress.

While in office, Clare Boothe Luce became an outspoken anti-communist and vocal critic of many of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s wartime policies, including race-based immigration restrictions.  During her second term, she helped create the Atomic Energy Commission, and fiercely argued for better support for American troops stationed overseas.  Near the end of her second term, Luce’s only daughter died in a tragic car accident, and in the face of personal tragedy, Luce declined to run for re-election.  She remained incredibly active in politics in other ways, however.  After campaigning for Republican presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, she served as America’s ambassador to Italy for three years, and later served on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board for presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.  Before her death in 1987, she had amassed an impressive number of accolades: She was the first woman to be awarded the U.S. Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer award, and the first woman in Congress to be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Clare Boothe Luce was inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994, and to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2017.  Today, a foundation set up in her honor provides scholarships for young women who pursue education and careers in STEM-related fields.  A truly remarkable woman and extraordinary representative for the state of Connecticut, born on this day in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Clare Boothe Luce,” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame

About Clare Boothe Luce,” The Henry Luce Foundation

Women in Congress: Clare Boothe Luce,” U.S. House of Representatives