Luce, Clare Booth (1903-87)
American author and politician; US Ambassador. The first American woman appointed to a major ambassadorial post abroad.
TLS – Typewritten Letter Signed, one page, 1955, as Ambassador to Italy. Addressed to the director of Corriere della Sera, an Italian newspaper. Makes reference to President Eisenhower and the Geneva Conference. Written nine years after Luce’s conversation to Roman Catholicism. Reads: Thank you for recommending to my attention the two editorials from Corriere della Sera of July 17 and July 24. I have read them with great interest. I want you to know of my particular appreciation for your perceptive interpretation of President Eisenhower’s role in the Geneva Conference. Letter accompanied by a small black and white reprint portrait of Ambassador Luce.
A versatile author, Luce is best known for her 1936 hit play The Women, which had an all-female cast. Her writings extended from drama and screen scenarios to fiction, journalism, and war reportage. She was the wife of Henry Luce, publisher of Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated.
Politically, Luce became steadily more conservative in later life. In her youth, however, she briefly aligned herself with the liberalism of Franklin D. Roosevelt, as a protege of Bernard Baruch. Although she was a strong supporter of the Anglo-American alliance in WWII, she remained outspokenly critical of the British presence in India. A charismatic and forceful public speaker, especially after her conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1946, Luce campaigned for every Republican presidential candidate from Wendell Willkie to Ronald Reagan.
Luce returned to politics during the 1952 presidential election, when she campaigned on behalf of Republican candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower, giving more than 100 speeches on his behalf. Her anti-Communist speeches on radio and TV were effective in persuading large numbers of Catholic Democrats to switch parties and vote for Ike. For her contribution, Luce was rewarded with an appointment as Ambassador to Italy, a post that oversaw 1,150 employees, 8 consulates, and 9 information centers. She was the first American woman ever to hold such an important diplomatic post.
Not surprisingly, Italians reacted doubtfully at first to the arrival of a female ambassador in Rome, but Luce soon convinced those of moderate and conservative temper that she favored their civilization and religion. Her admirers in Italy — and she had millions — fondly referred to her as la Signora, the lady (Joseph Lyons, author and diplomat). The country’s large Communist minority, however, regarded her as a foreign meddler in Italian affairs. She was no stranger to Pope Pius XII who welcomed her as a friend and ally. Over the course of several audiences since 1940, Luce had impressed Pius XII as one of the most effective secular preachers of Catholicism in America.
Luce’s principal achievement as ambassador was to play a vital role in negotiating a peaceful solution to the Trieste Crisis of 1953-54, a border dispute between Italy and Yugoslavia that she saw as potentially escalating into a war between East and West. Her sympathies throughout were the Christian Democratic government of Giuseppe Pella, and influential on the Mediterranean policy of Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, another religiously drive anti-communism. Although Luce regarded the abatement of the acute phase of the crisis in December, 1953, as a triumph for herself, the main work of the settlement, finalized in October 1954, was undertaken by professional representatives of the five concerned powers (Britain, France, the United States, Italy and Yugoslavia) meeting in London.
As ambassador, Luce consistently overestimated the possibility that the Italian left would mount a governmental coup and restore totalitarian rule, unless the democratic center was buttressed with generous American aid. Nurturing an image of her own country as a haven of social peace and prosperity, she threatened to boycott the 1955 Venice Film Festival if the American juvenile delinquent film Blackboard Jungle, was shown. Around the same time she fell seriously ill with arsenic poisoning. Sensational rumors circulated that the ambassador was the target of extermination by agents of the Soviet Union. Medical analysis eventually determined that the poisoning was caused by arsenate of lead in paint dust falling from the stucco that decorated her bedroom ceiling. The episode debilitated Luce physically and mentally, and she resigned her post in December, 1956. Upon her departure, Rome’s Il Tempo concluded She has given a notable example of how well a woman can discharge a political post of grave responsibility.