About William Moulton Marston
Having led a life filled with totally unrelated accomplishments, William Moulton Marston was a lawyer, a psychologist, invented the first functional lie detector polygraph, created the DISC model for emotions and behavior of normal people, authored self-help books, and created the Wonder Woman comic under the pen name Charles Moulton. He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.
He was born on May 9, 1893 in Saugus, Massachusetts, the son of Frederick W. Marston and Annie Dalton Moulton. Educated at Harvard University, Marston received his B.A. in 1915, an L.L.B. in 1918, and a Ph.D. in Psychology 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 in an attempt to detect deception, which became one component of the modern polygraph. According to their son, Marston's wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston was also involved in the development of the systolic blood-pressure test: "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). Some have linked this device to Wonder Woman's Lasso of Truth, but a direct connection is difficult to demonstrate.
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. 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:
- Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment
- Inducement produces activity in a favourable environment
- Submission produces passivity in a favourable environment
- Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment.
In an October 25, 1940, interview conducted by former student Olive Byrne (under 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 (a follow-up article was published two years later in 1942. 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.
In the early 1940s, the DC line was dominated by superpowered male characters such as the Green Lantern and its flagship character, Superman, as well as the gadget-based Batman. According to the Fall 2001 issue of the Boston University alumni magazine, it was his wife Elizabeth's idea to create a female superhero: "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.'"
Marston introduced the idea to Max Gaines, co-founder with Jack Liebowitz of All-American Publications. Given the go-ahead, Marston developed Wonder Woman with Elizabeth (whom Marston believed to be a model of that era's unconventional, liberated woman). In creating Wonder Woman, Marston was also inspired by Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple in a polygamous/polyamorous relationship. Marston's pseudonym, Charles Moulton, combined his own and Gaines' middle names.
The character, which he called Suprema, was intended 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 (December 1941). The character next appeared in Sensation Comics #1 (January 1942), and six months later, Wonder Woman #1 debuted. Except for four months in 2006, the series has been in print ever since, and it now appears bi-monthly. 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.
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.