William Moulton Marston

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, United States
Died May 2, 1947(1947-05-02) (aged 53)
Rye, New York, United States
Cause of death Skin cancer
Resting place Ferncliff Cemetery
Hartsdale, New York
Nationality American
Other names

Charles Moulton

Education Harvard University
B.A. 1915
LL.B 1918
PhD 1921 (Psychology)
Occupation Psychologist
Employer American University
Tufts University
Known for Systolic blood-pressure test
Self-help writer
Advocate for women's potentials
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 & Fredericka (died at infancy)
(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,[2] inventor, advocate for women, writer, 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), both greatly influenced Wonder Woman's creation.[1][3][4]

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


Early life and career

Marston was born in the Cliftondale section of Saugus, Massachusetts, the son of Annie Dalton (née Moulton) and Frederick William Marston.[5][6] Marston was educated at Harvard University, receiving his B.A. in 1915, an LL.B. in 1918, and a PhD 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.

William Marston (right) in 1922, testing his lie detector invention

Psychologist and inventor

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).[7][8] 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 there is no evidence that proves it inspired the Magic Lasso, and a direct connection is difficult to demonstrate.

From his psychological work, Marston apparently became convinced that women were more honest than men in certain situations and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the latent abilities and causes of the women of his 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:

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.[9]

Wonder Woman

Main article: Wonder Woman


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.[10]) The interview 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 and 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 the idea of Marston's wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, to create a female superhero. Marston recommended an idea for a new kind of superhero, one who would conquer not with fists or firepower, but with love. "Fine," said Elizabeth. "But make her a woman."[11][12]

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 the unconventional, liberated, powerful modern women of his day.[1][13] 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 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 of Amazons who became a crime-fighting U.S. government agent, using her superhuman strength and agility, and her ability to force villains to submit and tell the truth by binding them with her magic lasso.[14] Her appearance, was apparently based somewhat on Olive Byrne, but her heavy bronze bracelets (which she used to deflect bullets) were inspired by the jewelry bracelets worn by Olive Byrne.

After her name "Suprema" was replaced with "Wonder Woman", which was a popular term at the time that described women who were exceptionally gifted, 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.[14] 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 various psychological topics, but his last six years of writing were devoted to his comics creation.

Much of his creation of Wonder Woman's world was composed of allegories of his theories and the happenings in his own life.

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.[15]


Dr. William Moulton Marston's philosophy of diametric opposites has bled into his design of his Wonder Woman mythology. This theme of diametrics took the form of his emphasis on certain masculine and feminine configurations, as well as dominance and submission.

Marston's "Wonder Woman" is an early example of bondage themes that were entering popular culture in the 1930s.[1] Physical and mental 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 sisters 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 being more capable of submission emotion, in his other writings and interviews 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."[16]

One of the purposes of these bondage depictions was to induce eroticism in readers as a part of what he called "sex love training". Through his Wonder Woman comics, he aimed to condition readers to becoming more readily accepting of loving submission to loving authorities rather than being so assertive with 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!"[17]

All of these bondage and submission elements were just a part of the much broader main theme of diametric relationships that was reflective of his self-help philosophy.

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.[18] Stories involving the latter have been especially focused on the emotions involved in changing sides from evil to good, as were stories from Green Lantern's "Blackest Night" with its Emotional Spectrum which was likely influenced by Dr. Marston's research into emotions. Wonder Woman's golden lasso and Venus Girdle in particular were the focus of many of the early stories, and have the same capability to reform people for good in the short term that Transformation Island and prolonged wearing of Venus Girdles 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.


Journal articles


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 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. Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, ISBN 9780385354042, pages 53, 200.
  3. "BU Alumni Web :: Bostonia :: Fall 2001". Archived from the original on January 4, 2007.
  4. "OUR TOWNS; She's Behind the Match For That Man of Steel". February 18, 1992.
  5. Flavin, R. D. (n.d.) The Doctor and the Wonder Women: Love, Lies, and Revisionism. Retrieved October 3, 2014.
  6. Harvard Class of 1915 25th Anniversary Report, pp. 480–482.
  7. "The Polygraph and Lie Detection".
  8. Moore, Mark H. (2003). The Polygraph and Lie Detection. National Academies Press. p. 29. ISBN 0-309-08436-9.
  9. "Why Men Are Organizing To Fight Female Dominance" October 19, 1929, Hamilton Evening Journal
  10. Richard, Olive. Our Women Are Our Future
  11. 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.
  12. Malcolm, Andrew H. "OUR TOWNS; She's Behind the Match For That Man of Steel". The New York Times, Feb. 18, 1992.
  13. Daniels, Les. Wonder Woman: The Complete History, (DC Comics, 2000), pp. 28–30.
  14. 1 2 Lepore, Jill. The Secret History of Wonder Woman, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014, ISBN 9780385354042, pages 183–209.
  15. 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
  16. Jones, Gerard Men of Tomorrow New York: Basic Books 2004, p. 210
  17. Marston, William Moulton. "Why 100,000,000 Americans Read Comics." The American Scholar 13.1, 1943–44, page 43
  18. "Eviless – Pre-Crisis DC Comics – Villainy Inc – Wonder Woman". Writeups.org.


Preceded by
Wonder Woman writer
Succeeded by
Robert Kanigher
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