In 1942 Clare Boothe Luce was elected as a Republican representative from Connecticut, entering the 78th United States Congress where women made up less than two percent of its membership. Already famous, her arrival in Washington attracted additional notice; local hairdressers took advantage of her popularity by advertising “the Clarette” and “the Clare Bo” styles. Tourists taking in the sites were reportedly eager to see three attractions: The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, and Clare Boothe Luce.
Early on, Clare Luce’s relationship with President Roosevelt turned antagonistic. Before her election she had criticized FDR for fighting a “soft war.” With her in Washington, the President saw a chance of getting back at her. The newspaper PM had published the poem Au Clare de la Luce by Howard Dietz responding to her quip against Roosevelt and the President requested that John McCormack, the House Majority Leader, find a Democrat who would be willing to quote it in the House when Representative Luce made her first speech.
McCormack could not find anyone willing to undertake this unsavory task but the relationship between the President and the freshman congresswoman from Connecticut continued to deteriorate. Clare continually spoke out against Roosevelt and his policies, at one point calling him “the only American President who ever lied us into a war because he did not have the political courage to lead us into it.” On his end, FDR endorsed Clare Luce’s opponent in the 1944 election, campaigning and speaking out against her candidacy. Nevertheless, Clare won reelection in 1944 by a thin margin.
While in Congress, Clare Luce served on the Committee on Military Affairs, visiting the newly liberated areas or France and Italy, as well as the front lines. Her support for the military put her on the same side with Roosevelt as proponents of the GI Bill of Rights.
Her other activities included campaigning for the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Acts, a proposal to create of an agency to oversee arms control, especially atomic weapons, and support for the U.S. participation in what eventually became the United Nations. In 1946 she introduced a bill to create a Labor Department bureau to ensure women and minorities received equal pay for equal work. She was also proponent of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution.
Clare Boothe Luce’s presence on the national stage following her election to the House of Representatives led to calls for her nomination to the post of vice president; these calls would continue for years afterwards. At times, she may have considered the possibility, though she never put in her candidacy. Among the records found in the Henry R. Luce Papers is a draft of a statement which she wrote as a response to these calls:
“Today the grave flaw in most of our nation’s leaders is that they are total strangers to the word humility. Indeed their most crippling limitation is that they have no sense of their limitations at all. I hope – in all humility – I have a sense of mine.
I am not limited by my sex in politics. That has been an asset in our chivalrous world. I am limited by lack of political experience and administrative ability. These qualities are two a vice president should have. Then there remains always the possibility that the president may die in office. In such an event, the only qualification I would have for that highest office, which no other president in recent years has possessed, is that I could write my own speeches. That is distinctly not enough. For its highest offices America should await patiently (and so far as I have observed, is awaiting patiently) the arrival on the American scene of a truly great woman – one for instance as great as Madame Chiang.” [The wife of General Chiang Kai-shek]
Stay tuned for Part III: Clare Boothe Luce – The Ambassador.