William M. Marston

William M. Marston books and biography

William Moulton Marston

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Born May 9, 1893
Cliftondale, Massachusetts
Died May 2, 1947
Rye, New York
Residence United States
Nationality American
Field Psychology
Institution American University
Tufts University
Almamater Harvard University
Knownfor Systolic blood-pressure test
Creator of Wonder Woman

Dr. William Moulton Marston (May 9, 1893 – May 2, 1947) was a psychologist, feminist theorist, and comic book writer who created the "Wonder Woman" character with his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.



Early life and career

Born in Cliftondale, Massachusetts, William Marston received his B.A. from Harvard University in 1915, his L.L.B. from Harvard in 1918, and Ph.D. in Psychology from Harvard in 1921. After teaching at American University in Washington D.C. and Tufts University in Medford MA, Marston traveled to Universal Studios in California in 1929, where he spent a year as Director of Public Services.

Psychologist and inventor

Marston is credited as the creator of the systolic blood-pressure test used to detect deception, which became one component of the modern polygraph.

From this work, Marston had been 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 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 (later developed further by John G. Geier) and IDISC assessment. 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 favourable 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 favourable environment
  • Steadiness produces passivity in a favourable environment
  • Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment.

Marston posited that there is a male notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent, and an opposing female notion based on "Love Allure" that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority. His critical view of certain gender stereotypes in popular culture is expressed in a 1944 article published in The American Scholar:

"Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power... 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, 1944, p. 42–43)".

Wonder Woman


In an October 25, 1940, interview conducted by his partner and former student Olive Byrne (who used the pseudonym 'Olive Richard') and published in Family Circle, titled "Don't Laugh at the Comics", Marston described what he saw as the great educational potential of comic books. 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 merge to form the future DC Comics. Marston saw a comics line filled with images of supermen such as Green Lantern, Batman, and the company's flagship character, Superman, and wondered why there was no female hero.

Thus inspired, Marston developed the character of Wonder Woman with his wife Elizabeth, who served as the partial model. The other inspiration was found in Olive, an equally unconventional individual, who lived with the couple in a polyamorous relationship. Marston introduced the idea to Max Gaines, head of All-American, who gave Marston the go-ahead for a Wonder Woman comics feature. Marston used a pen name that combined his middle name with that of Gaines to create Charles Moulton.

Marston intended his character, which 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. Her appearance, including her heavy silver bracelets (which she used to deflect bullets), was based somewhat on Olive Byrne.

Editor Sheldon Mayer replaced the name "Suprema" with "Wonder Woman", and the character made her debut in All Star Comics #8 (Dec. 1941). The character next appeared in Sensation Comics #1 (Jan. 1942), and six months later, Wonder Woman #1 debuted. 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. After his death, Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together until Olive's death in the late 1980s; Elizabeth died in 1993, aged 100.


Marston's Wonder Woman is often cited as an early example of bondage themes entering popular culture: 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 (possibly based on Marston's earlier research studies on sorority initiations). These elements were softened by later writers of the series. Though Marston had described female nature as submissive, in his other writings and interviews he referred to submission to women as a noble and potentially world-saving practice, leading ideally to the establishment of a matriarchy, and did not shy away from the sexual implications of this:

"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".[1]

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!"[2]


Ph.D. Thesis (1921) "Systolic blood pressure symptoms of deception and constituent mental states." Harvard University Ph.D. dissertation.


  • (1999; originally published 1928) Emotions of Normal People. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 0-415-21076-3
  • (1930) Walter B. Pitkin & William M. Marston, The Art of Sound Pictures. New York: Appleton.
  • (1931) Integrative psychology; a study of unit response (with C.D. King & E.H. Marston). London, England: Harcourt, Brace.
  • (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 Encyclopedia Britannica.


  1. ^ Jones, Gerard Men of Tomorrow New York: Basic Books 2004, p. 210
  2. ^ Quoted in Daniels, Les, DC Comics Little, Brown and Company, 1995, p. 58; Goulart, Ron, Great American Comic Books Publications International Ltd, 2001, p. 113; Wright, Nicky The Classic Era of American Comics Contemporary Books 2000, p. 98. The third book does not quote with an exclamation point.


  • Biographical entry in Jaques Cattell, (ed.), American Men of Science: A Biographical Directory, Seventh Edition, (Lancaster, 1944), pp. 1173–1174.
  • Bunn, Geoffrey C. "The Lie Detector, Wonder Woman and Liberty: The Life and Works of William Moulton Marston," History of the Human Sciences 10 (1997): 91–119.
  • Daniels, Les, and Chip Kidd. Wonder Woman: A Complete History. (Chronicle Books, 2000); ISBN 0-8118-2913-8
  • Rhodes, Molly Rae. "Doctoring Culture: Literary Intellectuals, Psychology and Mass Culture in the Twentieth-Century United States." (Ph.D. Dissertation, U California, San Diego, USA, 1998).
  • William Marston at the Internet Movie Database
  • Reason article on Marston
  • Boston Globe article
  • Bostonian article on Elizabeth
  • Family Circle interview of Marston, conducted by 'Olive Richard'
  • "Comics Should Be Good" (column): "Comic Book Urban Legend Revealed" #1 (June 3, 2005)

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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