Clare Boothe Luce, “the woman with the serpent’s tongue,” was the anti-Eleanor Roosevelt, a sort of alternate universe doppelganger who used her razorsharp wit to oppose while “faintly praising” the First Lady and other unrepentant New Dealers. A virulent Republican and FDR basher, Clare was both a smart and tough cookie, albeit not to everyone’s taste. Clare, however, had a wholly unique way of asserting her woman power. As a young woman, one of her summer jobs during college was dropping feminist tracts out of an airplane for some elderly but unstoppable suffragists.
Her next job was writing photo captions for Vogue; there the renowned beauty quickly ascended to the position as Vanity Fair’s managing editor. She was the first woman to hold this post for the glamour glossy and soon proved she could hold her own with the boys, even managing to be welcomed in to their cigarettes and brandy ritual. Then she met Time and Fortune magnate Henry R. Luce, married, and quit the day job to write plays, starting with the stinker Abide with Me and then surprising everyone with the all-female To the Women, a take-no-prisoners satire of snooty society ladies, which went on to become a very successful movie. Clare became an international cause celeb with the success of To the Women, penning a few more stage plays including Kiss the Boys Goodbye before she pulled another switcheroo: war correspondent for Life magazine on the battle fronts of Burma, India, and China during the early years of World War II. She even interviewed Madame Chiang Kai-shek and Prime Minister Nehru.
Clare’s next incarnation was politician and she went on the stump, dissing FDR, Winston Churchill, and a herd of other such sacred cows. She stunned everyone with her gift for rhetoric of the biting, stinging sort. Her next move was to run for a seat in Connecticut’s Congress with a very hawkish platform—her slogan was “Let’s Fight a Hard War Instead of a Soft War”—and she campaigned for the rights of women, blacks, and workers. Easily winning a seat, she served for four years and then retired while she was ahead. Clare then took her domestic campaigns abroad, convincing the Italian Prime Minister to give Italian women the vote! Her good relations with Italy garnered a post for Clare as the ambassador to Italy in 1953, becoming the United States’ second woman ambassador and the first woman chief of mission to a major European power. In 1953, she was fourth in the Gallup poll of the most admired women in the world.
Clare became the grande dame of the Grand Old Party from the Goldwater sixties until her death of cancer in 1987. Clare will be best remembered for her quick wit and verbal virtuosity. She was absolutely one of a kind; she never luxuriated in her husband’s great wealth, but instead worked her behind off for many causes and made great strides for women in her wake.
“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
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