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Women’s History Month: Elizabeth Holloway Marston

She is the Princess of the Amazons.
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She has super-human speed and strength. She can fly. She will not tolerate lies. She is Wonder Woman, and… well, she’s completely fictional. But the woman behind Wonder Woman has an interesting, if less flashy, story of her own.

Elizabeth Holloway Marston and husband Willaim Moulton Marston. Archival Photograph, Bostonia Magazine

Elizabeth Holloway Marston was born in 1893 and was certainly a driven woman. Against her father’s wishes, she attended law school and paid her own way. Eventually her and her husband William found their way to the psychology department at Harvard. William was working on his Ph.D., which at the time was restricted to men only. Together they studied the link between blood pressure and deception. Elizabeth pointed out that when she was angry or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb. Their research led them to create the systolic blood-pressure test, an early form of the lie detector test.

Elizabeth was a career woman and continued to work after having children, which was very uncommon at the time. In 1940 William was hired as an educational consultant for National Periodicals, the company that would eventually become DC Comics. He wanted to create a superhero in the fashion of that popular new Superman fella, with a difference being that this new character would use love instead of strength to solve problems. “Fine,” Elizabeth said, “but make her a woman.” Together, they developed Wonder Woman. The super heroine’s alter-ego, Diana Prince, was a Boston career woman directly modeled on Elizabeth. Wonder Woman’s “weapon,” the Lasso of Truth, was inspired by the couple’s earlier work with lie detection.

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In the world of comics, Wonder Woman went on to be a founding member of the Justice League of America, and regularly helps Superman and Batman out of the jams they get in to. In the real world, Wonder Woman has appeared on a postage stamp, in her own TV show, and on the cover of the first issue of Ms. magazine in 1972. She’s been continuously published in various comic books since 1941, and is an instantly recognizable cultural icon. Her name is synonymous with female empowerment.

Elizabeth’s name is not widely known, but it doesn’t seem like she would have minded. Her daughter described her as “a small package of dynamite,” and when she died at age 100 Elizabeth left quite a legacy behind.

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Wonder Woman stamp from the USPS

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