M is for William Moulton Marston

This is my contribution to Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday and again I am focusing on people, some famous, some infamous and some half-forgotten.

Wonder WomanWilliam Moulton Marston was a psychiatrist, inventor and feminist theorist who under the pen name of Charles Moulton put his ideas into practice by creating the comic character Wonder Woman.

Born in Massachusetts in 1893, Marston was educated at Harvard and received his PhD in psychology in 1921 before going on to teach at universities in Washington and Medford.

Marston became a writer on popular psychology issues and developed a theory (or came to realise) that women were more honest and reliable than men and could work faster and more accurately than them.

William Moulton MarstonThere were two particular women in his life – his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston (herself a psychologist) and former student Olive Byrne – and the three of them lived together in a polyamorous relationship. Both women were to influence his comic creation.

Marston is credited with inventing the systolic blood pressure test that is now a component of the modern polygraph (although it seems certain that his wife was jointly responsible) and this would be the inspiration for Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth.

In an interview in The Family Circle in 1940, Marston extolled the educational potential of comic books and he was approached to be the educational consultant for the publishing companies that would merge to form DC Comics.

It was the golden age of the superhero, all of whom were men, and it was Elizabeth’s idea to create a female hero. Marston agreed and set about creating a character who would prevail through love rather that might. In 1943 he wrote:

‘Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.’

He based the character on the two women in his life. Marston first called her Suprema, a native of the all female utopia of the Isle of Paradise, who would fight crime on behalf of the US government using her superhuman strength and the Lasso to force villains to tell the truth.

The Lie Detector

The Lie Detector

The editor changed Suprema’s name to Wonder Woman and she first appeared in All Star Comics in December 1941. Her appearance was based on Olive Byrne, including the heavy silver bracelets that Wonder Woman used to deflect bullets.

The photo on the left shows Olive taking notes during a demonstration of the ‘lie detector’ while Marston (right) asks the questions.

Lynda Carter as Wonder WomanPhysical submission was a constant theme in Marton’s comic works, as well as bondage. He is quoted as saying: ‘The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound. Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element’.

Marston died in 1947 and was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006. And, of course, Wonder Woman made her television debut in the 1970s starring Lynda Carter.

Nobody’s prefect. If you find any spelling mistakes or other errors in this post, please let me know by highlighting the text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

12 comments… Add yours
  • Carver 10th October 2012

    Interesting and well written feature for M day. Carver, ABC Wed. Team

  • Polyamorous Pudding 10th October 2012

    Mmmm… I wonder if Lady Pudding will allow me to hire a certain Thai masseuse so we can also have a “polyamorous relationship”. Sounds like fun but we will have to get a bigger bed. She can take over the ironing. Thanks to Willie Moulton Marston for paving the way. Like him, I have suddenly decided to become a feminist myself. Germaine Greer eat your heart out!

  • Polyamorous Pudding 10th October 2012

    Was Moulton Marston related to Harold Wilson?

  • Roger Green 10th October 2012

    Oh, I must send this to someone…
    ROG, ABC Wednesday team

  • Meryl 10th October 2012

    Marvelous post!!!! Let’s here it for the women!

  • Wanda 10th October 2012

    Oh how very intriging and interesting. I had never heard of the creator of Wonder Woman… My husband has at times called me “Wanda the Wonder Woman”…but I have no fame and less power, haha.

  • Leslie 10th October 2012

    This is fascinating. When I was at university in the 70s, I did a research paper about how comic books are valuable for educational purposes! But I did not know about Marston himself being the creator of Wonder Woman.

    abcw team

  • Addy 10th October 2012

    Fascinating and well written article. Have always loved superheroes, Wonder Woman in particular. Thank you for writing and sharing this 🙂

  • Chrissy Brand 10th October 2012

    Great post- I think many of us are wonder women in our everyday lives 😉

  • rhymeswithplague 10th October 2012

    Well, that cartoon version is certainly a wonder!

  • Ann 10th October 2012

    Oh I really like the name “Wonder Woman” over “Suprema”. Very interesting article, my Son is the only comic book lover in our family but we ALL watched Wonder Woman.

  • lmkazmierczak 10th October 2012

    Nice tribute to both the man behind his creation as well as Wonder Woman♫


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