A collection of papers of psychologist and Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston have landed at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s Schlesinger Library. And more papers from Marston’s granddaughters are set to arrive at in the archives in the months ahead. Undoubtedly the Marston’s papers will also feature items from his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and partner Olive Byrne, both of whom are well deserving of collections in their own right. As described in the Harvard Gazette,
Over the past academic year, two collections of William Moulton Marston, the Harvard graduate, psychologist, and inventor of the lie detector machine whose Wonder Woman comics promoted the triumph of women, arrived at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study’s Schlesinger Library.
Though there’s little material directly related to Wonder Woman among the photos, letters, articles, drawings, and miscellanea in the archive, the collections go a long way toward explaining the influences in Marston’s life that inspired his righteous crime-fighting character, her racy look, and her fantasy storylines.
“His collection helps tell a back story rooted in Marston’s controversial research and the women in his unorthodox personal life,” said Kathy Jacob, curator of manuscripts at the Schlesinger. That includes Marston’s simultaneous relationships with two strong and idealistic women, a connection to Margaret Sanger — one of the most important feminists of the 20th century — as well as Marston’s work with behavioral psychology and his theories on love.
Relatedly, a new feature film, Professor Marston & the Wonder Women, is set to be released later this fall.
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In the above video Jill Lepore, Professor of American History at Harvard University and staff writer for the New Yorker, discusses her work on the history of Wonder Woman before Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Lepore’s The Secret History of Wonder Woman was recently released by Random House. (For more on Lepore’s work on Wonder Woman see here.)
Tip o’ the hat to Ben Harris for alerting us to this video.
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The New Yorker recently published a piece by Harvard historian Jill Lepore on the roots of wonder woman. Created by psychologist William Marston in the 1940s wonder woman has become something of a feminist cultural icon. (See our previous posts on the subject here.) As Lepore puts it,
Superman débuted in 1938, Batman in 1939, Wonder Woman in 1941. She was created by William Moulton Marston, a psychologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard. A press release explained, “ ‘Wonder Woman’ was conceived by Dr. Marston to set up a standard among children and young people of strong, free, courageous womanhood; to combat the idea that women are inferior to men, and to inspire girls to self-confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men” because “the only hope for civilization is the greater freedom, development and equality of women in all fields of human activity.” Marston put it this way: “Frankly, Wonder Woman is psychological propaganda for the new type of woman who should, I believe, rule the world.”
Read the full piece here.
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BBC Radio 4 recently broadcast The Truth and Nothing but the Truth in which psychologist Geoff Bunn explores lie detecting technologies, past and present. In this episode, much like in his recent book The Truth Machine: A Social History of the Lie Detector, Bunn explores the creation of lie detectors by psychologists and others, as well as the link between this work and pop culture icons Dick Tracy and Wonder Woman. An excerpt from the episode can be heard here. As described on the BBC Radio 4 site,
Dr Geoff Bunn discovers that Dick Tracy and Wonder Woman both have starring roles in the history of lie detection. The culture of the comic book influenced the cultural perception of science then, and now colourful brain images from fMRI scans direct the public’s view of what science can achieve. But does seeing parts of the brain light up when a subject lies provide any more concrete proof of what is true and what is not than did measuring heart and sweat rate in the traditional polygraph?
Dr Geoff Bunn investigates the latest lie detecting technology with the help of Steven Rose, Emeritus Professor of Neuroscience at the Open University and Geraint Rees, Director of the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. He discovers that the early history of the lie detector features a psychologist, William Marston, who went on to create the comic book character Wonder Woman, and an amateur magician, Leonarde Keeler, who was an inspiration for the comic strip hero, Dick Tracy.
He explores the history of the American obsession with lie detection, aided by Ken Alder, Professor of History at North Western University and Garyn Roberts, biographer of Chester Gould, who created Dick Tracy. He investigates Wonder Woman at the Travelling Man comic book shop in Manchester with the help of Dr Joan Ormrod, co-editor of the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics. And he hears from Bruce Burgess, founder of Polygraphs UK, who uses his company’s services.
You can listen to the full episode, The Truth and Nothing but the Truth, here.
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BackStory with the American History Guys is a podcast series hosted by U.S. historians Ed Ayers, Peter Onuf, and Brian Balogh. In each episode Ayers, Onuf, and Balogh, along with their guests, explore the historical roots of a topic of current relevance. Two recent podcasts explore issues of interest to historians of psychology. In “States of Mind: Mental Illness in America,” the American history guys use the recent release of the DSM-5 as a springboard for discussion of the history of mental illness in the United States,
…exploring how the diagnostic line between mental health and madness has shifted over time, and how we’ve treated those on both sides of it. We’ll hear how the desire of slaves to escape bondage was once interpreted as a psychological disorder, how a woman’s sleepwalking landed her in the state asylum, and how perspectives on depression altered in the 1970s. Plus, the Guys walk us through a mid-20th century quiz that promised to identify a new kind of mental “disorder” – our susceptibility to fascism.
“Bridge for Sale: Deception in America,” features an interview with psychologist Geoff Bunn on the history of the lie detector and its connection to Wonder Woman, which is also detailed in his recent book The Truth Machine: A Social History of the Lie Detector. In this episode, the American history guys,
…dig into the long story of confidence men and counterfeiters. We discover a time when fake money jump-started the economy, and take a look at the long, strange history of “the truth compelling machine.” And, oh yeah… we try to sell the Brooklyn Bridge.
Check out even more episodes of BackStory here.
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