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kottke.org posts about William Moulton Marston

The first ever sketch of Wonder Woman

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 12, 2017

Original Wonder Woman

This is the first ever sketch of Wonder Woman by H.G. Peter from 1941. On the drawing, Peter wrote:

Dear Dr. Marston, I slapped these two out in a hurry. The eagle is tough to handle — when in perspective or in profile, he doesn’t show up clearly — the shoes look like a stenographer’s. I think the idea might be incorporated as a sort of Roman contraption. Peter

The Wonder Woman character was conceived by William Moulton Marston, who based her on his wife Elizabeth Marston and his partner Olive Byrne. (Reading between the lines about WW’s creation, you get the sense that Elizabeth deserves at least some credit for genesis of the character as well.) On the same drawing, Marston wrote back to Peter:

Dear Pete — I think the gal with hand up is very cute. I like her skirt, legs, hair. Bracelets okay + boots. These probably will work out. See other suggestions enclosed. No on these + stripes — red + white. With eagle’s wings above or below breasts as per enclosed? Leave it to you. Don’t we have to put a red stripe around her waist as belt? I thought Gaines wanted it — don’t remember. Circlet will have to go higher — more like crown — see suggestions enclosed. See you Wednesday morning - WMM.

From Wikipedia:

Wonder Woman was created by the American psychologist and writer William Moulton Marston (pen name: Charles Moulton), and artist Harry G. Peter. Olive Byrne, Marston’s lover, and his wife, Elizabeth, are credited as being his inspiration for the character’s appearance. Marston drew a great deal of inspiration from early feminists, and especially from birth control pioneer Margaret Sanger; in particular, her piece “Woman and the New Race”. The character first appeared in All Star Comics #8 in October 1941 and first cover-dated on Sensation Comics #1, January 1942. The Wonder Woman title has been published by DC Comics almost continuously except for a brief hiatus in 1986.

William, Elizabeth, Olive seemed like really interesting people. They lived together in a polyamorous relationship (which I imagine was fairly unusual for the 1940s) and William & Elizabeth worked together on inventing the systolic blood pressure test, which became a key component in the later invention of the polygraph test. Olive was a former student of William’s and became his research assistant, likely helping him with much of his work without credit.

Update: The upcoming film Professor Marston and the Wonder Women is a biographical drama about the lives of William, Elizabeth, and Olive. Here’s a trailer:

The Imaginary Worlds podcast also had an episode on the genesis of Wonder Woman (featuring New Yorker writer Jill Lepore, who wrote The Secret History of Wonder Woman):

(via @ironicsans & warren)