Ann Clare Boothe was born on March 10, 1903 in New York City to a former dancer and a violinist. Years later--following in her parents’ artistic footsteps--she would become a world renowned playwright and author as well as a famed journalist, politician, diplomat, and women’s rights activist, one of the most iconic women and figures of the 20th century.
As a child, she attended numerous schools and then briefly a theatre school for children. She married millionaire George Tuttle Brokaw in 1923. They had one daughter, Ann, together, but Clare divorced him in 1929 after six years of marriage. Her first play, titled Abide with Me, was produced in New York 1935. It was not successful with audiences or critics, but dealt with the topic of domestic abuse and was perhaps partially influenced by her relationship with Brokaw. After her divorce, Boothe worked as a caption writer for Vogue photography and a journalist for Vanity Fair. Her satire and insight as a journalist quickly led to her becoming associate editor and then managing editor of Vanity Fair before leaving the magazine in 1934. Her early writings for the magazine were published in a collection titled Stuffed Shirts.
Inspired by George Bernard Shaw, Clare focused on her playwriting; her most famous piece, The Women, premiered on Broadway at the end of 1936. A satirical story of women and marriage in 1930s society, The Women received public and critical acclaim and contributed to her increasing popularity as a literary and political figure in the United States. In 1935 she married Henry Luce, known for establishing and working as publisher for Time, Life, Sports Illustrated, and Fortune magazines. Clare continued to work as a journalist for these publications after her marriage and traveled to Europe, reporting on World War II. In 1941 she published Europe in the Spring, chronicling her experiences. She was elected as the first woman from Connecticut to serve in the United States House of Representatives and from 1942-1946 fought for gender and racial equality, civil rights for immigrants, and against communism as well as President Roosevelt’s war policies. Working on Congress’ Committee on Military Affairs, she played a crucial role in the establishment of the Atomic Energy Commission.
In 1944, Luce lost her daughter to an automobile accident and subsequently converted to Roman Catholicism to cope with her loss. Under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, she served as an ambassador to Italy from 1953-1956, the first woman to hold such a powerful diplomatic and political position. She served as Ambassador to Brazil in 1956-1959. Luce was a member of President Ronald Reagan’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, and in 1983, Reagan awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work in diplomacy, activism, theatre, and politics.
Author of four plays following The Women as well as the screenplay for Oscar-nominated Come to the Stables in 1949, Luce continued her work as a playwright. Inducted into the Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994, she has become an important figure in women’s history. After a battle with cancer, Clare Boothe Luce passed away in Washington, D.C. on October 9, 1987. She left a substantial fund for the Clare Boothe Luce Program, which still contributes today to the education of women in science, mathematics, and engineering.