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William Moulton Marston (May 9, 1893 – May 2, 1947), also known by the pen name Charles Moulton, was an American psychologist, feminist theorist, inventor and comic book writer who created the character Wonder Woman. Two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston and Olive Byrne (who lived with the couple in a polyamorous relationship), served as exemplars for the character and greatly influenced her creation.
He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.
Early life and career
He was born in Saugus, Massachusetts. William Marston was educated at Harvard University, receiving 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, which became one component of the modern polygraph invented by John Augustus Larson in Berkeley, California. Marston’s wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston is to have suggested a connection between emotion and blood pressure to William, observing 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 own work on her husband’s research. She also appears in a picture taken in his laboratory in the 1920s (reproduced by Marston, 1938). Marston set out to commercialize Larson’s invention of the polygraph when he subsequently embarked on a career in entertainment and comic book writing, and appeared as a salesman in ads for Gilette Razors, using a polygraph motif. Some have linked the device to the Lasso of Truth associated with the comic book character Wonder Woman, but a direct connection is difficult to demonstrate.
From his psychological work, Marston apparently became 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 the 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.
Marston posited that there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on ”Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority. In 1929, Moulton wrote on the blossoming Men’s Rights Movement as a newspaper columnist.
On October 25, 1940, an interview was conducted by former student Olive Byrne (under the pseudonym ‘Olive Richard’) and published in The Family Circle, titled ”Don’t Laugh at the Comics.” Marston described in the article that he saw in 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 later merge to form DC Comics.
In the early 1940s, the DC Comics line was dominated by super-power endowed male characters such as the Green Lantern, Superman (its flagship character), as well as Batman who became known for his high tech gadgets. According to the Fall 2001 issue of the Boston University alumni magazine, it was Marston’s wife Elizabeth’s idea to create a female superhero. Marston was struck by 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, basing her character on both Elizabeth and Olive Byrne, to be the model of a conventional, liberated, powerful modern woman. Marston’s pseudonym, Charles Moulton, combined his own and Gaines’ middle names.
In a 1943 issue of ”The American Scholar”, Marston wrote: ”Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. 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 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 (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.
William Moulton 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.
Marston’s ”Wonder Woman” is an early example of bondage themes that were entering popular culture in the 1930s. 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. These elements were softened by later writers of the series, who dropped such characters as the Nazi-like blond female slaver Eviless completely, despite her having formed the original Villany Inc. of WW’s enemies (in Wonder Woman #28, the last by Marston).
Though Marston had described female nature as submissive, in his other writings and interviews he referred to submission as a noble practice and did not shy away from the sexual implications, saying:
”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”.
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!”.
Marston combined these themes with others, including restorative and transformative justice, rehabilitation, regret and its role in civilization, mind control used in a temporary way for good. These appeared often in his depiction of the near-ideal Amazon civilization of Paradise Island, and especially its Transformation Island penal colony, which played a central role in many stories, and was the ”loving” alternative to retributive justice of the world run by men. These themes are particularly evident in his last story, in which prisoners freed by Eviless, who have responded to Amazon rehabilitation, stop her and restore the Amazons to power.
Some of these themes continued on in Silver Age characters who may have been influenced by Marston, notably Saturn Girl and Saturn Queen, who (like Eviless and her female army) are also from Saturn, also clad in tight dark red bodysuits, also blond or red-haired, and also have telepathic powers. Stories involving the latter have been especially focused on the emotions involved in changing sides from evil to good, or the use of power over minds even to do good. Wonder Woman’s golden lasso and Girdle of Venus in particular were the focus of many of the early stories, and have the same capability to control people for good in the short term that Transformation Island offered in the longer term. The Venus Girdle was an allegory for Dr. Marston’s theory of ”sex love” training, where people can be ”trained” to embrace submission through eroticism.
History and Evolution of the DiSC® Assessment
In 1920, William Moulton Marston developed a theory to explain people’s emotional responses to various stimuli. Marston wanted to study “normal” people because research had been done on the mentally ill, but not on the emotions of normal
people. In 1928 he wrote a book called Emotions of Normal People – a 428-page
book which is no longer in print. Marston’s book is very technical and not easy to read. You can read the first three pages and view the entire Table of Contents at the link above.
In his book, Marston identified what he called four “primary emotions” and associated behavioral responses, which today we know as DiSC® – Dominance, Influence, Steadiness (originally Submission), and Conscientiousness (originally Compliance). Although Marston never actually created a DISC assessment, it was his work that laid the foundation for the instrument that was later developed.
An interesting aside about Marston: he was also the creator of the systolic blood-pressure test, which lead to the creation of the polygraph (lie detector). Because of his discovery, Marston was 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. He was the creator of Wonder Woman, the cartoon character he created to empower women.
In 1940, using Marston’s model, Walter Clarke developed a tool called the Activity Vector Analysis. It measured how one perceived themself and how one thought others perceived them. Participants took it twice with these two response focuses. The combination from these two focused responses described behavior with these four dimensions: Aggressive, Sociable, Stable, and Aviodant.
In 1950 John Cleaver created a 24-question forced-choice instrument from the Activity Vector Analysis. This instrument required the participant to select two words from four choices — the word that was the MOST and LEAST like them.
In 1970, two professors from the University of Minnesota — John Geier and Dorothy Downey — created the DiSC® Personal Profile System, which took the responses from Cleaver’s 24-question forced-choice instrument and identified a total of 15 classical patterns that emerged. They created a company called Performax Systems International to promote this assessment. In 1984, Curt Carlson (also a graduate of the University of Minnesota) purchased Performax Systems International and created Carlson Learning Company.
In 1994 the Personal Profile System was revalidated. Since the meaning of some words had changed over the years, some of the words were changed in the forced-choice instrument, and four more tetrads were added. Today’s DiSC® assessment includes a total of 28 tetrads.
After Curt Carlson died, his company sold the DiSC Personal Profile System to The Riverside Company in 2000, which soon thereafter became Inscape Publishing, Inc. (Inscape is a hybrid word created from internal landscape.)
Today, more than 50 million people around the world have benefited from using the DiSC® assessment. Inscape Publishing has trademarked DiSC® with a small “i”. The DISC model itself cannot be patented because Marston never developed a product to patent. He created the model and theory behind it, but never created an actual product that could be sold. Therefore, a number of companies have since created profiles based on Marston’s model. The original assessment tool is the one created by what is now known as Inscape Publishing, Inc. You can always tell if you have the original assessment by looking for the small “i” in DiSC®.