Creator of Wonder Woman: Who was William Moulton Marston?

So there’s the latest formula in comics — super strength, altruism, and feminine love allure, combined in a single character.
— William Moulton Marston, on the creation of Wonder Woman

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Christie Marston, the granddaughter of Marston and his wife Elisabeth Marston, has been vocal on the fact that the director of the film never contacted the family to gain information. The director herself even stated in an interview that she decided not to reach out to the family as she wanted to use her own interpretation of the story, which raises questions of the authenticity of the films claim to be the “true story”. There is also notably a scene in the film that would be recognisable to anyone familiar with the history of both Marston and comics, to be entirely fictional. A pivotal point of the film is the book burning scene, inspired by a real event that took place in 1948, after Marston’s death.

The source that potentially inspired the film could be The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore. It was written based on Lepore’s access to the private papers of Marston, and on interviews with family and friends. The book caught the attention of the press due to the part where she dwells on the more salacious secrets of the Marston family living arrangement. William Moulton Marston was a polygamist living with his wife Elisabeth Holloway Marston, and girlfriend Olive Byrde, having children with both women.

But even this book has been criticised by Christie Marston, for supposed inaccuracies and methodology problems. The most prominent interview source for the book was a distant relative who was “removed from the events by a generation, a family, and thousands of miles. She wasn’t born, she did not know them, she wasn’t even on the same coast.”

So what do we actually know about Marston?

He was a psychologist with a law degree and a Ph.D. from Harvard, who wrote two full-length books and a number of articles describing his psychological research.

What is noted in the psychology community regarding Marston’s research is that he had little impact on mainstream academia, but has a long-lasting influence on pop psychology.

As Geoffrey Bunn has said, Marston “consistently disregarded the apparent boundaries between academic and popular psychology, between science and values, and between the legitimate and the illegitimate” (92).”

Although Marston is better known for his work in the polygraph machine. On the basis of this research, he dubbed himself “the inventor of the lie detector” (Bunn 95).

Marston was first confronted with the comics field when hired by publishers, as a consulting psychologist, along with an assortment of accomplished educators in their respective fields to create an advisory board. They were tasked with analysing the comics of the times, and come up with recommendations of improvements.

He was very focused on what children would take away from the comics

“If children will read comics […] why isn’t it advisable to give them some constructive comics to read?”

With this in mind he (along with the advisory board) initiated a policy of introducing words that were above average child-reading level with the aim of expanding their vocabularies. National Comics, the official name of DC Comics at the time, was already engaging in similar tactics with encouraging their readers to take advantage of their local libraries, and to read widely outside of comics.

What he found most troubling when it came to the comics of the time was what he called the “blood-curdling masculinity”. He felt that hupermasculine characters such as Superman lacked “the most important ingredient in the human happiness recipe[…] —love.”

According to Marston; Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones. So that’s why he created Wonder Woman. A feminine character with all the strength of Superman, with all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.

Professor Marston and the Wonder Women was a film that followed the success of Wonder Woman. Represented as the story behind her creation, as the interesting tale of the life lead by her creator William Moulton Marston and the relationship he had with the women in his life. But is it really the true story?

Cocca, C. 2014. “Negotiating the Third Wave of Feminism in Wonder Woman,” PS: Political Science & Politics. Cambridge University Press, 47(1), pp. 98–103.

Marston, W.M. 1943/44 ‘Why 100.000.000 Americans Read Comics’ American Scholar 13(1). pp. 35-44.

Comment by Christie Marston on “Jill Lepore Reveals the Secret History of Wonder Woman,” Newsarama.com, October 28, 2014, http://www.newsarama.com/22568-jill-lepore-reveals-the-secret-history-of-wonder-woman.html