Elizabeth Holloway Marston

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Elizabeth Holloway Marston
Born Elizabeth Holloway
(1893-02-20)February 20, 1893
Isle of Man
Died March 27, 1993(1993-03-27) (aged 100)
New York City
Nationality American
Other names

Sadie Holloway

Education Mount Holyoke College (B.A. in Psychology 1915)
Boston University School of Law (L.L.B., 1918)
Radcliffe College (M.A. in Psychology 1921)
Occupation Editor, author, lecturer
Known for Involvement in the creation of Wonder Woman and the systolic blood-pressure test
Spouse(s) William Moulton Marston
Partner(s) Olive Byrne
Children Pete & Olive Ann
(Olive's children):
Byrne & Donn & Fredericka

Elizabeth "Sadie" Holloway Marston (February 20, 1893 – March 27, 1993) was an American attorney and psychologist. She is credited both for partially inspiring the comic book character Wonder Woman and having been involved in the nature of the character's creation, with her husband, William Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton)[1][2][3] and his mistress, Olive Byrne.[4][5] She also participated with Marston in the development of the systolic blood-pressure test used to detect deception.[2][6]

Background and education[edit]

Marston was born Elizabeth Holloway in the Isle of Man and raised in Boston, Massachusetts.[3] As noted by Boston University, "In an era when few women earned higher degrees, Elizabeth received three."[2] She received her BA in psychology from Mount Holyoke College in 1915[2] and would have liked to go on to join her then-fiance, William Marston, at Harvard Law School. However, according to an interview she gave to the New York Times in 1992, "Those dumb bunnies at Harvard wouldn't take women [...] so I went to Boston University."[3] According to Marston's granddaughter, Susan Grupposo, when Marston asked her father to support her through law school, "He told her: 'Absolutely not. As long as I have money to keep you in aprons, you can stay home with your mother.' Undeterred, Holloway peddled cookbooks to the local ladies' clubs. She needed $100 for her tuition, and by the end of the summer she had it. She married Marston that September, but still she paid her own way." Marston received her LLB from the Boston University School of Law in 1918,[7] and was "one of three women to graduate from the School of Law that year. [She later stated] 'I finished the [Massachusetts Bar] exam in nothing flat and had to go out and sit on the stairs waiting for Bill Marston and another Harvard man . . . to finish.'"[2]

Systolic blood-pressure test[edit]

Both William and Elizabeth next joined the psychology department at Harvard. Because Harvard's doctoral program was restricted to men, Elizabeth was in the master's program at the neighboring Radcliffe College. Elizabeth worked with William on his dissertation, which concerned the correlation between blood pressure levels and deception. William later developed this into the systolic blood-pressure test used to detect deception that was the predecessor to the polygraph test.

This work led to a PhD for William from Harvard and an MA for Elizabeth from Radcliffe in 1921.[2] Furthermore, according to their son, Elizabeth suggested to William, "When she got mad or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb."[2] Although Elizabeth is not listed as William’s collaborator in his early work, a number of writers refer directly and indirectly to Elizabeth’s work on her husband’s deception research. She also appears in a picture taken in his polygraph laboratory in the 1920s, reproduced in a 1938 publication by William.[2][8][9]

Career and family[edit]

Marston was a career woman, a position that was controversial for the time in which she lived: "She indexed the documents of the first fourteen Congresses, lectured on law, ethics, and psychology at American and New York Universities, [and] served as an editor for Encyclopædia Britannica and McCall's magazine."[2] In 1933, Marston became the assistant to the chief executive at Metropolitan Life Insurance, a position she held until she was 65 years old.[2]

In 1920, Marston gave birth to a stillborn child, Fredericka. She had her second child, Pete, at the age of 35 and continued to work, which was rare for women at the time. Her third child was Olive Ann, named after Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple in an extended relationship. Marston also supported the two children of Olive Byrne. These children, Byrne and Donn, were legally adopted by the Marstons.[2] While Olive stayed home to raise the children, Elizabeth supported the family when William was out of work and after his death in 1947. This included financing the college and graduate education of all four children and supporting Olive until her death in the 1980s.[2]

Wonder Woman[edit]

Marston's involvement in the creation of the DC Comics character Wonder Woman was discussed in detail in a 1992 New York Times article published one year before her death:

Our Towns reveals the true identity of Wonder Woman's real Mom. She is Elizabeth Holloway Marston. She's not 1,000; she's 99 come Thursday [...] One dark night as the clouds of war hovered over Europe again, Mr. Marston consulted his wife and collaborator, also a psychologist. He was inventing somebody like that new Superman fellow, only his character would promote a global psychic revolution by forsaking Biff! Bam! and Ka-Runch! for The Power of Love. Well, said Mrs. Marston, who was born liberated, this super-hero had better be a woman [...] Wonder Woman was created and written in the Marston's suburban study as a crusading Boston career woman disguised as Diana Prince [...] Meanwhile, in a small Connecticut town, Wonder Woman's Mom has disguised herself as a retired editor who lives in postwar housing.[3]

Her 1993 obituary stated that she was the inspiration for Wonder Woman. It also quoted her son Pete as stating that Marston had told William (after he was asked to develop a new superhero in the early 1940s), "Come on, let's have a Superwoman! There's too many men out there."[10] A 2001 article in the Boston University Alumni Magazine, which included extensive interviews with her family, further noted that "William Moulton Marston, a psychologist already famous for inventing the polygraph (forerunner to the magic lasso), struck upon 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.'"[2]

Lillian S. Robinson, however, has argued that both Olive Byrne and Elizabeth were the models for the character.[11] In addition, Marston contributed some of Wonder Woman's signature exclamations, such as “Suffering Sappho” and “Great Hera."[12]

Marston lived to be 100 years old, dying March 27, 1993, just after her hundredth birthday.



  1. ^ "Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Holloway Marston (LAW '18)"
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Lamb, Marguerite. "Who Was Wonder Woman? Long-Ago LAW Alumna Elizabeth Marston Was the Muse Who Gave Us a Superheroine." Boston University Alumni Magazine, Fall 2001.
  3. ^ a b c d Malcolm, Andrew H. "OUR TOWNS; She's Behind the Match For That Man of Steel". The New York Times, Feb. 18, 1992.
  4. ^ Moon, Michael (2012-03-12). Darger’s Resources. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822351560. 
  5. ^ Daniels, Les (2000). Wonder Woman: The complete History. Chronicle Books. ISBN 0-8118-2913-8. 
  6. ^ Comm. to Review the Scientific Evidence on the Polygraph, Nat’l Research Council. The Polygraph and Lie Detection. 2003.
  7. ^ Green, Hope. "Panel Recognizes Astral Advances of Women in Law". B.U. Bridge, vol. 5, no. 31, April 19, 2002.
  8. ^ Marston, William Moulton. The Lie Detector Test. 1938.
  9. ^ The Polygraph and Lie Detection (2003): Chapter: Appendix E: Historical Notes on the Modern Polygraph
  10. ^ "Elizabeth H. Marston, Inspiration for Wonder Woman, 100". The New York Times, April 3, 1993.
  11. ^ Glenn, Joshua. "Wonder-working power". Boston.com, April 14, 2004.
  12. ^ Pollitt, Katha. "Wonder Woman's Kinky Feminist Roots". Atlantic Monthly, Oct. 14, 2014.