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The Liberated Wife Who Really Was Wonder Woman

Elizabeth Holloway Marston was one-half of the inspiration for Wonder Woman, the superheroine who made her comic book debut the month Pearl Harbor was attacked.

The other half of the inspiration was a woman named Olive Byrne. Both women lived with the Wonder Woman creator, William Moulton Marston. Each woman bore two of his children. Elizabeth Holloway Marston was his wife, Olive was their … well, ‘friend.’

Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman

Elizabeth was born on Feb. 20, 1893 on the Isle of Man, but raised in Boston, Mass. She showed early in life why she would inspire a powerful, liberated, modern super-heroine. At a time when few women earned degrees, she earned three. She played a key role in her husband’s development of the systolic blood pressure test, a forerunner to the polygraph (and a model for Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth).

She edited Encyclopædia Britannica and McCall's magazine, worked as assistant to the CEO of Metropolitan Life Insurance, lectured on law, ethics and psychology at American and New York universities and indexed the documents of the first 14 U.S. Congresses.

She had her first child at 35 and continued to work. After her husband lost his job she supported him, her children, Olive Byrne and Olive Byrne’s children, who she and her husband adopted. The real Wonder Woman lived to be 100 years old.

After she earned her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College, she decided to go to law school. Her father refused to pay tuition, saying ‘As long as I have money to keep you in aprons, you can stay home with your mother.' She sold cookbooks to raise the $100 tuition for Boston University School of Law , where she obtained an LL.B.

During law school she met and married Bill Marston, a native of Saugus, Mass., and also a law student. After they were admitted to the bar, he did graduate work in psychology at Harvard, while she got her M.A. in psychology from Radcliffe College.  It was she who noticed her blood pressure rose when she was angry or excited, and she helped her husband develop the systolic blood pressure test used to detect deception.

Original caption: This shows Dr. William M. Marston testing his "lie detector" on E. E. Duddington, founder and president of the "Prisoners' Relief society." Duddington served a five years' sentence for involuntary manslaughter and he hopes Doctor Marston's "detector" will vindicate the story he told at his trial.

Original caption: This shows Dr. William M. Marston testing his "lie detector" on E. E. Duddington, founder and president of the "Prisoners' Relief society." Duddington served a five years' sentence for involuntary manslaughter and he hopes Doctor Marston's "detector" will vindicate the story he told at his trial.

Bill Marston taught first at American, then at Tufts University, where he met his student Olive Byrne. She came to live with him and Elizabeth, taking the name ‘Richard’ instead of ‘Byrne.’ Sheldon Mayer, Marston’s editor at DC Comics, visited them at their home years later.

“Betty Marston was the mother, Dotsie Richard was the secretary, there were other people who needed homes and got them, and they all operated beautifully,” he said.

Bill Marston’s unconventional family life may have forced him to leave academia for comic book writing. His psychological research had persuaded him that women were more honest and reliable than men. He also thought they were better workers. He wanted to create a character who would triumph over evil with love. Elizabeth told him to make her a woman.

Though Wonder Woman was liberated and super-competent like Elizabeth, she was physically modeled after Olive Byrne – thin, black-haired and blue-eyed. Olive also wore heavy silver bracelets that inspired Wonder Woman’s bullet-deflecting cuffs.

Wonder Woman first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in December 1941. She was an Amazon princess who fought for justice, love, peace and sexual equality. In addition to her Lasso of Truth and indestructible bracelets, she had an invisible airplane and a tiara that could be used as a projectile. She fought Nazis and supervillains such as Cheetah and Circe.

Bill Marston died in 1947 of cancer, and Olive and Elizabeth continued to live together.  Others continued to write Wonder Woman comics, which are still published today.

Elizabeth Holloway Marston worked at Metropolitan Life until she was 65. She supported Olive until she died and put all four children through college and graduate school. The New York Times wrote a story about the origin of Wonder Woman when she was in her 99th year.

One dark night as the clouds of war hovered over Europe again, Mr. Marston consulted his wife and collaborator, also a psychologist. He was inventing somebody like that new Superman fellow, only his character would promote a global psychic revolution by forsaking Biff! Bam! and Ka-Runch! for The Power of Love. Well, said Mrs. Marston, who was born liberated, this super-hero had better be a woman

Elizabeth Holloway Marston died on March 27, 1993. She was 100 years old.

Wonder Woman the movie was released on June 2, 2017 to positive reviews. Patty Jenkins directed the film, and Israeli actress Gal Gadot played the starring role. Watch the Wonder Woman trailer here.

This story was updated in 2017.

4 comments

  1. Molly Landrigan

    Well, this was a strange story. No doubt about it Elizabeth truly was liberated!

  2. Rebecca Branconier

    Remind me Nick Merritt- there’s a student u need to have next year. Or at least meet real soon!

  3. Sharman Lee Holt-Lucero

    Only knew a little bit of the story…interesting! I LOVED IT!

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