William Moulton Marston

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William Moulton Marston
(l to r) William Moulton Marston, H. G. Peter, Sheldon Mayer, Max Gaines (1942)
Born (1893-05-09)May 9, 1893
Saugus, Massachusetts
Died May 2, 1947(1947-05-02) (aged 53)
Rye, New York
Cause of death
skin cancer
Resting place
Ferncliff Cemetery
Hartsdale, New York
Nationality American
Other names Charles Moulton
Education Harvard University
B.A. 1915
L.L.B 1918
Ph.D. 1921 (Psychology)
Occupation Psychologist
Employer American University
Tufts University
Known for Systolic blood-pressure test
Creator of Wonder Woman[1]
Important contributor to DISC
Successor Robert Kanigher
Spouse(s) Elizabeth Holloway Marston
Partner(s) Olive Byrne
Children (Elizabeth's children):
Pete & Olive Ann
(Olive's children):
Byrne & Donn

William Moulton Marston (May 9, 1893 – May 2, 1947), also known by the pen name Charles Moulton, was an American psychologist, lawyer, inventor and comic book writer who created the character Wonder Woman.[1] Two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne (who lived with the couple in an extended relationship), served as inspiration for the character and greatly influenced her creation.[1][2][3]

He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.


Early life and career[edit]

Marston was born in the Cliftondale section of Saugus, Massachusetts, the son of Annie Dalton (née Moulton) and Frederick William Marston.[4][5] Marston was educated at Harvard University, receiving his B.A. in 1915, an L.L.B. in 1918, and a Ph.D. in Psychology in 1921. After teaching at American University in Washington, D.C., and Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, Marston traveled to Universal Studios in California in 1929, where he spent a year as Director of Public Services.

Psychologist and inventor[edit]

Marston is credited as the creator of the systolic blood pressure test, which became one component of the modern polygraph invented by John Augustus Larson in Berkeley, California. Marston's wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston is said to have suggested a connection between emotion and blood pressure to William, observing that, "[w]hen she got mad or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb" (Lamb, 2001). Although Elizabeth is not listed as Marston's collaborator in his early work, Lamb, Matte (1996), and others refer directly and indirectly to Elizabeth's own work on her husband's research. She also appears in a picture taken in his laboratory in the 1920s (reproduced by Marston, 1938).[6][7] Marston set out to commercialize Larson's invention of the polygraph when he subsequently embarked on a career in entertainment and comic book writing, and appeared as a salesman in ads for Gillette Razors, using a polygraph motif. Some have linked the device to the Lasso of Truth associated with the comic book character Wonder Woman, but a direct connection is difficult to demonstrate.

From his psychological work, Marston apparently became convinced that women were more honest and reliable than men and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the causes of the women of the day.

Marston was also a writer of essays in popular psychology. In 1928, he published Emotions of Normal People, which elaborated the DISC Theory. Marston viewed people behaving along two axes, with their attention being either passive or active; depending on the individual's perception of his or her environment as either favorable or antagonistic. By placing the axes at right angles, four quadrants form with each describing a behavioral pattern:

  • Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment
  • Inducement produces activity in a favorable environment
  • Submission produces passivity in a favorable environment
  • Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment.

Marston posited that there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on "Love Allure" that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority. In 1929, Moulton wrote on the blossoming Men's rights movement as a newspaper columnist.[8]

Wonder Woman[edit]


On October 25, 1940, an interview conducted by former student Olive Byrne (under the pseudonym "Olive Richard") was published in The Family Circle (titled "Don't Laugh at the Comics"), in which Marston said that he saw "great educational potential" in comic books. A follow-up article was published two years later in 1942.[9] This article caught the attention of comics publisher Max Gaines, who hired Marston as an Educational Consultant for National Periodicals and All-American Publications, two of the companies that would later merge to form DC Comics.

In the early 1940s, the DC Comics line was dominated by superpower-endowed male characters such as the Green Lantern, Superman (its flagship character), as well as Batman who became known for his high tech gadgets. According to the Fall 2001 issue of the Boston University alumni magazine, it was Marston's wife Elizabeth's idea to create a female superhero. Marston was struck by an idea for a new kind of superhero; one who would triumph not with fists or firepower, but with love. "Fine", said Elizabeth. "But make her a woman."

Marston introduced the idea to Max Gaines, co-founder with Jack Liebowitz of All-American Publications. Given the go-ahead, Marston developed Wonder Woman, basing her character on both Elizabeth and Olive Byrne[citation needed], to be the model of a conventional, liberated, powerful modern woman.[1][10] Marston's pseudonym, Charles Moulton, combined his own and Gaines' middle names.

In a 1943 issue of The American Scholar, Marston 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."


Marston intended his character, whom he called Suprema, to be "tender, submissive, peaceloving as good women are", combining "all the strength of a Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman". His character was a native of an all-female utopia who became a crime-fighting U.S. government agent, using her superhuman strength and agility, and her ability to force villains to tell the truth by binding them with her magic lasso.[11] Her appearance, including her heavy silver bracelets (which she used to deflect bullets), was based somewhat on Olive Byrne.

After her name "Suprema" was replaced with "Wonder Woman", the character made her debut in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941. Wonder Woman next appeared in Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942), and six months later, Wonder Woman #1 debuted.[12] Except for four months in 2006, the series has been in print ever since. The stories were initially written by Marston and illustrated by newspaper artist Harry Peter. During his life, Marston had written many articles and books on psychological topics, but his last six years of writing were devoted to his comics creation.

William Moulton Marston died of cancer on May 2, 1947, in Rye, New York, seven days shy of his 54th birthday. After his death, Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together until Olive's death in the late 1980s; Elizabeth died in 1993, aged 100. In 1985, Marston was posthumously named as one of the honorees by DC Comics in the company's 50th anniversary publication Fifty Who Made DC Great.[13]


Marston's "Wonder Woman" is an early example of bondage themes that were entering popular culture in the 1930s.[1] Physical submission appears again and again throughout Marston's comics work, with Wonder Woman and her criminal opponents frequently being tied up or otherwise restrained, and her Amazonian friends engaging in frequent wrestling and bondage play. These elements were softened by later writers of the series, who dropped such characters as the Nazi-like blond female slaver Eviless completely, despite her having formed the original Villainy Inc. of WW's enemies (in Wonder Woman #28, the last by Marston).

Though Marston had described female nature as submissive, in his other writings and interviews[citation needed] he referred to submission as a noble practice and did not shy away from the sexual implications, saying:

The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound... Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society... Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element.[14]

He purposely aimed to condition readers to becoming more readily accepting to submission to loving authorities rather than being so assertive to their own destructive egos.

About male readers, he later wrote: "Give them an alluring woman stronger than themselves to submit to, and they'll be proud to become her willing slaves!"[15]

Marston combined these themes with others, including restorative and transformative justice, rehabilitation, regret and its role in civilization. These appeared often in his depiction of the near-ideal Amazon civilization of Paradise Island, and especially its Reform Island penal colony, which played a central role in many stories, and was the "loving" alternative to retributive justice of the world run by men. These themes are particularly evident in his last story, in which prisoners freed by Eviless, who have responded to Amazon rehabilitation and now have good dominance/submission, stop her and restore the Amazons to power.

Some of these themes continued on in Silver Age characters who may have been influenced by Marston, notably Saturn Girl and Saturn Queen, who (like Eviless and her female army) are also from Saturn, also clad in tight, dark red bodysuits, also blond or red-haired, and also have telepathic powers.[16] Stories involving the latter have been especially focused on the emotions involved in changing sides from evil to good. Wonder Woman's golden lasso and Girdle of Venus in particular were the focus of many of the early stories, and have the same capability to influence people for good in the short term that Transformation Island offered in the longer term. The Venus Girdle was an allegory for Marston's theory of "sex love" training, where people can be "trained" to embrace submission through eroticism.[citation needed]


Doctoral dissertation
  • "Systolic blood pressure symptoms of deception and constituent mental states." (Harvard University, 1921)


  • (c. 1932) Venus with us; a tale of the Caesar. New York: Sears.
  • (1936) You can be popular. New York: Home Institute.
  • (1937) Try living. New York: Crowell.
  • (1938) The lie detector test. New York: Smith.
  • (1941) March on! Facing life with courage. New York: Doubleday, Doran.
  • (1943) F.F. Proctor, vaudeville pioneer (with J.H. Feller). New York: Smith.
Journal articles
  • (1917) "Systolic blood pressure symptoms of deception." Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol 2(2), 117–163.
  • (1920) "Reaction time symptoms of deception." Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 72–87.
  • (1921) "Psychological Possibilities in the Deception Tests." Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 11, 551–570.
  • (1923) "Sex Characteristics of Systolic Blood Pressure Behavior." Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6, 387–419.
  • (1924) "Studies in Testimony." Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 15, 5–31.
  • (1924) "A Theory of Emotions and Affection Based Upon Systolic Blood Pressure Studies." American Journal of Psychology, 35, 469–506.
  • (1925) "Negative type reaction-time symptoms of deception." Psychological Review, 32, 241–247.
  • (1926) "The psychonic theory of consciousness." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 21, 161–169.
  • (1927) "Primary emotions." Psychological Review, 34, 336–363.
  • (1927) "Consciousness, motation, and emotion." Psyche, 29, 40–52.
  • (1927) "Primary colors and primary emotions." Psyche, 30, 4–33.
  • (1927) "Motor consciousness as a basis for emotion." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 22, 140–150.
  • (1928) "Materialism, vitalism and psychology." Psyche, 8, 15–34.
  • (1929) "Bodily symptoms of elementary emotions." Psyche, 10, 70–86.
  • (1929) "The psychonic theory of consciousness—an experimental study," (with C.D. King). Psyche, 9, 39–5.
  • (1938) "'You might as well enjoy it.'" Rotarian, 53, No. 3, 22–25.
  • (1938) "What people are for." Rotarian, 53, No. 2, 8–10.
  • (1944) "Why 100,000,000 Americans read comics." The American Scholar, 13 (1), 35–44.
  • (1944) "Women can out-think men!" Ladies Home Journal, 61 (May), 4–5.
  • (1947) "Lie detection's bodily basis and test procedures," in: P.L. Harriman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology, New York, 354–363.
  • Articles "Consciousness," "Defense mechanisms," and "Synapse" in the 1929 edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.


  1. ^ a b c d e Garner, Dwight (October 23, 2014). "Books - Her Past Unchained ‘The Secret History of Wonder Woman,’ by Jill Lepore". New York Times. Retrieved October 23, 2014. 
  2. ^ "BU Alumni Web :: Bostonia :: Fall 2001". Archived from the original on 4 January 2007. 
  3. ^ "OUR TOWNS; She's Behind the Match For That Man of Steel". 18 February 1992. 
  4. ^ Flavin, R. D. (n.d.) The Doctor and the Wonder Women: Love, Lies, and Revisionism. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  5. ^ Harvard Class of 1915 25th Anniversary Report, pp. 480-482.
  6. ^ "The Polygraph and Lie Detection". 
  7. ^ Moore, Mark H. (2003). The Polygraph and Lie Detection. National Academies Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-309-08436-9. 
  8. ^ "Why Men Are Organizing To Fight Female Dominance" October 19, 1929, Hamilton Evening Journal
  9. ^ Richard, Olive. Our Women Are Our Future
  10. ^ Daniels, Les. Wonder Woman: The Complete History, (DC Comics, 2000), pp. 28–30.
  11. ^ Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, ISBN 9780385354042, pages 183-209.
  12. ^ Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, ISBN 9780385354042, pages 183-209.
  13. ^ Marx, Barry, Cavalieri, Joey and Hill, Thomas (w), Petruccio, Steven (a), Marx, Barry (ed). "William Moulton Marston Wonder Woman's Legend Born" Fifty Who Made DC Great: 17 (1985), DC Comics
  14. ^ Jones, Gerard Men of Tomorrow New York: Basic Books 2004, p. 210
  15. ^ Marston, William Moulton. "Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics." The American Scholar 13.1, 1943–44, page 43
  16. ^ "Eviless - Pre-Crisis DC Comics - Villainy Inc - Wonder Woman". Writeups.org. 


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Wonder Woman writer
Succeeded by
Robert Kanigher