Childhood & Early Life
William Moulton Marston was born on May 9, 1893, in the Cliftondale section of Saugus, Massachusetts, to Frederick William Marston and Annie Dalton. Not much is known about his childhood days.
Marston attended ‘Harvard University’ and graduated ‘Phi Beta Kappa,’ an honor awarded to the most outstanding students in the US. He completed his BA in 1915. In 1918, Marston completed his graduation in law. In 1921, he acquired a PhD in psychology. For a brief period, Marston worked as a professor with the ‘American University’ in Washington and with ‘Tufts University’ in Massachusetts. In 1929, he moved to California and worked as the director of public services for a year.
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In 1917, William Moulton Marston published his early findings on the polygraph. The systolic blood pressure test was one of the earliest inventions made by him. This test was an integral component of the modern polygraph invented by John Augustus Larson. Marston’s wife, Elizabeth, was the first to suggest a connection between emotions and blood pressure. In the 1920s, Marston worked on this concept and invented the systolic blood pressure test. The test measured the changes in a person’s blood pressure that occur while being interrogated. Based on the results of the test, one could ascertain if a person was telling the truth or lying.
In 1921, Marston published his doctoral dissertation, ‘Systolic Blood Pressure, Symptoms of Deception and Constituent Mental States,’ for ‘Harvard University.’ Marston’s contribution was significant in commercializing the polygraph invented by Larson. As a psychologist, he was concerned more about the psychological behavior of normal people than about abnormal psychological patterns.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Marston was actively involved in discussions with government groups. He campaigned for the use of the lie-detector test in criminal cases. His work received widespread publicity. In the 1930s, following the famous Lindbergh kidnapping case, Marston offered his services to the Lindbergh family.
In 1928, William Moulton Marston published his book on psychology, ‘Emotions of Normal People.’ The book was about the behavioral patterns of normal people. Marston formulated the ‘DISC’ theory, based on his observations of human behavior. ‘DISC’ stood for dominance, inducement, submission, and compliance. In the book, Marston stated that a person’s emotional behavior was influenced by two factors: whether a person perceives an environment as favorable or unfavorable and whether a person thinks he/she has control over the environment. Marston did not formulate any models for assessing the personality traits. However, several tools were later made, based on his theory. Marston’s ‘DISC’ theory has been widely used in dealing with leadership and management problems.
In 1930, Marston co-authored the book ‘The Art of Sound Pictures,’ with Walter B Pitkin. In 1931, ‘Integrative Psychology: A Study of Unit Response,’ which he co-authored with his wife, Elizabeth Marston, was published. This book was a continuation of the theories laid down in his first book, ‘Emotions of Normal People.’ In the book, Marston laid emphasis on using an objective approach for dealing with psychological problems. He studied the effects of the environmental stimuli on the central nervous system of human beings. The book further elaborated the ‘DISC’ theory propounded by him in his first book.
In 1932, Marston published his history-themed novel, ‘Venus with Us: A Tale of the Caesar.’ It was a story set in ancient Rome. It revolved around a virgin teenage girl, ‘Florencia,’ and her love for the hero, ‘Gaius Caesar,’ or ‘Julius Caesar.’ It was an erotic-fantasy novel, which dealt with the themes of submission and dominance. In 1953, after Marston’s death, the book was re-published as ‘The Private Life of Julius Caesar.’ Marston also authored several self-help books, such as ‘You Can Be Popular,’ ‘Try Living,’ and ‘March On! Facing Life with Courage.’ Marston was interested in entertainment and theater, too. In 1943, he wrote a biography, ‘F.F. Proctor, Vaudeville Pioneer.’ It was about Frederick Freeman Proctor, a renowned name in the genre ‘Vaudeville.’
William Moulton Marston was a firm supporter of the cause of feminism. During the course of invention of his lie-detector test, Marston discovered that women were more honest and trustworthy than men. In 1940, Marston was invited by Maxwell Charles Gaines, the publisher of ‘DC Comics,’ to become part of their advisory board. At the time, ‘DC Comics’ had only male superheroes, such as ‘Superman’ and ‘Batman.’ Marston suggested the idea of a female superhero, who would conquer using both power and love. This led to the creation of ‘Wonder Woman,’ one of the most popular female superheroes ever. Marston used the pseudonym “Charles Moulton” for writing ‘Wonder Woman.’ In December, 1941, ‘Wonder Woman’ made her debut in ‘All Star Comics #8.’ The comic series is still in print. Marston’s themes of submission and dominance were visible in the early stories of this comic series. ‘Wonder Woman’ was frequently tied up or restricted. The stories were written by Marston and illustrated by Harry Peter. During the last six years of his life, Marston devoted all his time to this comic creation.
Personal Life & Legacy
William Moulton Marston made headlines for the unique lifestyle that he had adopted. He lived with two women: his wife, Elizabeth Marston, and his polyamorous partner, Olive Byrne. Both of them were strong individuals and influenced the creation of ‘Wonder Woman.’
Marston had two children with his wife and two more with his partner. Elizabeth worked to provide financial support to the family, while Olive stayed at home to take care of the kids. Marston’s life inspired the movie ‘Professor Marston and the Wonder Women.’
On May 2, 1947, a few days before his 54th birthday, Marston died of cancer. After his death, Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together. In 1985, Marston was posthumously honored by ‘DC Comics,’ in their 50th anniversary publication, ‘Fifty Who Made DC Great.’ In 2006, Marston was inducted into the ‘Comic Book Hall of Fame.’
It is said that Marston’s wife, Elizabeth, was the one who had the idea of a female superhero. When Marston suggested a superhero who would combine love with fist power, Elizabeth said, “…make her a woman.” The appearance of ‘Wonder Woman’ was reportedly inspired by Oliver Byrne. ‘Wonder Woman’ wore heavy bronze bracelets, similar to the jewelry worn by Byrne.
Marston created the pseudonym “Charles Moulton” by combining his middle name and Gaines’s middle name. One of Marston’s most famous quotes was, “Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.” He believed the solution for this issue was “…to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”