About Sarah Elizabeth "Sadie" Marston (Holloway)
Elizabeth "Sadie" Holloway Marston (February 20, 1893 – March 27, 1993) was an American psychologist who was a career woman at a time when it was difficult for women to be so. She was involved in the creation of the comic book character, Wonder Woman with her husband, William Moulton Marston. She was also involved in the development of the systolic blood-pressure test used to detect deception with Marston (which would later be invoked through Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth).
Background and education
Marston was born in the Isle of Man and raised in Boston, Massachusetts. As noted by Boston University, "In an era when few women earned higher degrees, Elizabeth received three." She received her B.A. in psychology from Mount Holyoke College in 1915. Marston (then Holloway) would have liked to join her 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." 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, Gram 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 LL.B from the Boston University School of Law in 1918, 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.'"
Systolic blood-pressure test
Both William and Elizabeth next joined the psychology department at Harvard (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 would later develop this into the systolic blood-pressure test used to detect deception that was the predecessor to the polygraph test.
This work led to a Ph.D for William from Harvard and an M.A. for Elizabeth from Radcliffe in 1921. Furthermore, "according to Marston’s son, it was his mother Elizabeth, Marston’s wife, who suggested to him that 'When 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 work on her husband’s deception research. She also appears in a picture taken in his polygraph laboratory in the 1920s (reproduced in Marston, 1938)."
Career and family
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, served as an editor for Encyclopædia Britannica and McCall's magazine [...] All this at a time when teachers who married were expected to hand in their chalk, and wives needed their husbands' permission to work as operators for Ma Bell." In 1933, Marston became the assistant to the chief executive at Metropolitan Life Insurance (a position she held until she was 65 years old).
She had her first child at the age of thirty-five and continued to work even after having children, also revolutionary for the time. She eventually had two children (Pete and Olive Ann) and also supported the two children of Olive Byrne, (who lived with the couple in a polyamorous relationship). These children, Byrne and Donn, were legally adopted by the Marstons. 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.
Elizabeth'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."
Her 1993 obituary stated that she was the inspiration for Wonder Woman. It also quoted her son Pete as stating that Elizabeth 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." 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.'" Lillian S. Robinson also argued that that both Olive Byrne and Elizabeth were the models for the character.
Marston lived to be one hundred years old, dying March 27, 1993, just after her hundredth birthday.
Integrative Psychology: A Study of Unit Response by William Moulton Marston, C. Daly King, and Elizabeth Holloway Marston, 1931.