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William Moulton Marston's Legacy

William Moulton Marston's life story is an interesting one, filled with accomplishments that at first seem totally unrelated. He was a lawyer, a psychologist, invented the first functional lie detector polygraph, created the DISC model for emotions and behavior of normal people, authored self-help books, and created the Wonder Woman comic.

The Basic Facts                                                             

Profile photo of William Moulton MarstonBorn: May 9, 1893 in Cliftondale, MA
Died: May 2, 1947 in Rye, NY, from cancer

Wife: Elizabeth Holloway (m. 1915, two children)
Polyamorous partner: Olive Byrne (former student, two children)

Education: BA from Harvard University (1915), LLB from Harvard Law School (1918), PhD in psychology from Harvard University (1921), teacher at American University

Comic Book Hall of Fame induction: 2006

The Lie Detector - Marston's earliest professional years

Photo of early lie detectorAfter having discovered a correspondence between blood pressure and lying, Marston built a device to measure changes in a person's blood pressure while the subject was being questioned. In 1917, Marston formally published his early polygraph findings on the lie detection invention he first constructed in 1915.

During the 1920s and 30s Marston was an active lecturer and consulted with government groups. Unlike many psychologists of the time, he was more interested in the behavior of the general population of people rather than abnormal psychology.

He gained the attention of the federal government for his research. He also sought the attention of the courts and the public by publishing widely and seeking publicity. Following the Lindbergh kidnapping in the 1930s, Marston offered his services to the Lindbergh family.

Psychology, Emotions and Behavior – Marston's DISC model

cover of Emotions of Normal PeopleIn the early 20s Marston's work continued to be significant in the courts and legal system; however, it evolved in 1924 when he first studied the concepts of will and a person's sense of power and their effect on personality and human behavior. His work in consciousness, colors, primary emotions and bodily symptoms also contributed greatly to the field of psychology. The picture to the right shows Marston's Emotions of Normal People, the 1928 book which formally presented his findings. He published a second book, Integrative Psychology, in 1931.

DISC came, by design, from Marston's search for measurements of the energy of behavior and consciousness. Marston did not develop an assessment or test from his model, although others later did. He did, however, apply his model and theory in the real world when he consulted with Universal Studios in 1930 to help them transition from melodramatic silent pictures to movies with audio and the need for more natural gestures and facial expression by actors.


    History of DiSC
    Emotions of Normal People, Google books

Writing for the public - Entertainment and self-help books

Cover of Venus with UsVenus With Us: A Tale of the Caesar, a historical novel, was published in 1932. It was republished in 1953 as The Private Life of Julius Caesar after Marston's death to capitalize on the release of a film by Universal with the same name. Three other books followed on topics of popularity, courage, attitudes and determination. They were mass-marketed to the public in the emerging self-help industry. Ever a devotee of entertainment, he even wrote a biography, F.F. Proctor, Vaudeville Pioneer, in 1943 in the midst of his greatest contribution to entertainment, Wonder Woman.

Wonder Woman - William Moulton Marston as Charles Moulton

Marston was schooled in the Greek and Roman classics as a young man. He was also intimately and personally involved with the earliest movements for women's rights, including issues of birth control, voting and career equity. Knowing that, it is no surprise that William Moulton Marston's most famous work is the creation of the comic book heroine, Wonder Woman.

Cover of Sensation Comics with Wonder WomanWonder Woman emerged on the scene in December 1941 in issue #8 of All Star Comics. She was created and presented with Greek and Roman goddess archetypes. Her heroic behaviors showed strong will, power, and the use of the behavioral style dimensions of DISC--dominance, influence, submission, and compliance—to accomplish her missions.

It would seem that neither Max Gaines of DC Comics nor William Moulton Marston were absolutely certain how a female heroine would be accepted. Max Gaines introduced the heroine in the back of a comic at first and William Moulton Marston used the pen name of Charles Moulton. They need not have worried. Wonder Woman soon earned her own comic.

Marston wrote Wonder Woman until his death in 1947 and was inducted into the Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 2006.


    Bound to Blog: Wonder Woman #22
    Wonder Woman: A psychologist's creation, Monitor on Psychology, December 2008

Quotes by William Moulton Marston

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.

Every crisis offers you extra desired power.

Besides the practical knowledge which defeat offers, there are important personality profits to be taken.

Most of us actually stifle enough good impulses during the course of a day to change the current of our lives.

It's too bad for us 'literary' enthusiasts, but it's the truth nevertheless - pictures tell any story more effectively than words.

Realize what you really want. It stops you from chasing butterflies and puts you to work digging gold.

William Moulton Marston's Bibliography

Doctoral dissertation

"Systolic blood pressure symptoms of deception and constituent mental states." (Harvard University, 1921)


(1999; originally published 1928) Emotions of Normal People. Taylor & Francis Ltd. ISBN 0-415-21076-3
(1930) Walter B. Pitkin & William M. Marston, The Art of Sound Pictures. New York: Appleton.
(1931) Integrative Psychology: A Study of Unit Response (with C. Daly King, and Elizabeth Holloway Marston).
(c. 1932) Venus with Us; A Tale of the Caesar. New York: Sears.
(1936) You Can be Popular. New York: Home Institute.
(1937) Try Living. New York: Crowell.
(1938) The Lie Detector Test. New York: Smith.
(1941) March on! Facing Life with Courage. New York: Doubleday, Doran.
(1943) F.F. Proctor, Vaudeville Pioneer (with J.H. Feller). New York: Smith.

Journal articles

(1917) "Systolic blood pressure symptoms of deception." Journal of Experimental Psychology, Vol 2(2), 117 – 163.
(1920) "Reaction time symptoms of deception." Journal of Experimental Psychology, 3, 72 – 87.
(1921) "Psychological Possibilities in the Deception Tests." Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 11, 551 – 570.
(1923) "Sex Characteristics of Systolic Blood Pressure Behavior." Journal of Experimental Psychology, 6, 387 – 419.
(1924) "Studies in Testimony." Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, 15, 5 – 31.
(1924) "A Theory of Emotions and Affection Based Upon Systolic Blood Pressure Studies." American Journal of Psychology, 35, 469 – 506.
(1925) "Negative type reaction-time symptoms of deception." Psychological Review, 32, 241 – 247.
(1926) "The psychonic theory of consciousness." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 21, 161 – 169.
(1927) "Primary emotions." Psychological Review, 34, 336 – 363.
(1927) "Consciousness, motation, and emotion." Psyche, 29, 40 – 52.
(1927) "Primary colors and primary emotions." Psyche, 30, 4 – 33.
(1927) "Motor consciousness as a basis for emotion." Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 22, 140-150.
(1928) "Materialism, vitalism and psychology." Psyche, 8, 15 – 34.
(1929) "Bodily symptoms of elementary emotions." Psyche, 10, 70 – 86.
(1929) "The psychonic theory of consciousness—an experimental study," (with C.D. King). Psyche, 9, 39 – 5.
(1938) "'You might as well enjoy it.'" Rotarian, 53, No. 3, 22 – 25.
(1938) "What people are for." Rotarian, 53, No. 2, 8-10.
(1944) "Why 100,000,000 Americans read comics." The American Scholar, 13 (1), 35-44.
(1944) "Women can out-think men!" Ladies Home Journal, 61 (May), 4-5.
(1947) "Lie detection's bodily basis and test procedures," in: P.L. Harriman (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Psychology, New York, 354-363.

 "Consciousness," "Defense mechanisms," and "Synapse" in the 1929 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.