Remembering Wonder Woman

aSHEville Museum is premiering a new exhibit! “Wonder Woman: 76 Years Strong!” opened in mid-September. “Both the history and ongoing story of Wonder Woman are truly fascinating,” says Heidi Swann, the museum’s creative and executive director. “We designed this exhibit to appeal to all ages and across the spectrum of genders.”
Following are some of the highlights of the “stranger than fiction” Wonder Woman story:

“At last, in a world torn apart by the hatreds and wars of men, appears a woman to whom the problems and fears of men are mere child’s play . . . she is known only as WONDER WOMAN.”

Wonder Woman was introduced with those words in December 1941. A princess, a goddess, and an Amazon dressed patriotically in red boots, a blue skirt with white stars, and a red bustier, Wonder Woman exemplified feminist ideals and the principles of democracy. With her arsenal of awesome weapons – bullet-deflecting bracelets, a tiara that can be thrown like a boomerang, an invisible plane, and a golden lasso that compelled the truth, she was determined and resolute: “I can make bad men good, and weak women strong!”

The Wonder Woman super-heroine character was created by William Marston and artist Harry G. Peter in 1941 for DC Comics. Both Marston and Peter were peers and supporters of the suffragettes and feminists of the early 20th century. Marston, a Harvard-trained psychologist stated, ”Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, and power.”

The Wonder Woman character was both inspired by and based on the key women in Marston’s life. When William shared his idea with his wife, Elizabeth, for a new type of comic book hero, one who would triumph with love, not violence, she replied, “Fine, but make her a woman.” In her debut, Wonder Woman is described, “as lovely as Aphrodite, as wise as Athena, with the speed of Mercury and the strength of Hercules.”

The magic cuffs of Wonder Woman were fashioned after the cuffs worn by Olive Byrne, the other prominent woman, and lover, in Marston’s life. William, Elizabeth and Olive shared a household in which they raised their 4 children: two born by Elizabeth and two by Olive. Elizabeth, with three university degrees, was the primary financial supporter of the Marston family. Olive was the supervisor of the children and household. Olive was the niece of Margaret Sanger, an iconic pioneer and crusader for family planning and birth control.

Wonder Woman became a positive female symbol and role model during the Golden Age of Comics, a time of quantum leaps in readership, with some series selling more than a million copies per issue.
The series was a huge success for DC Comics until Marston’s death in 1947. As millions of men were returning home from World War Two to rejoin the workforce, women were expected (and pressured) to return to their former roles as homemakers. Between Marston’s passing and the changing times, Wonder Woman no longer fought the good fight and her strength and powers were eroded for decades. Marston’s widow Elizabeth proposed to DC Comics that she be assigned as Wonder Woman’s new writer. Instead, male writers were hired who did not share the feminist leaning of the Marstons. Over time, Wonder Woman’s Amazon story was taken away along with her bracelets, her magic lasso, and her invisible plane.

Gloria Steinem led the charge and lobbied DC Comics relentlessly to restore Wonder Woman’s Amazon origin story, as well as her historic super powers.
In July of 1972, the first official edition of Ms Magazine hit the newsstands with Wonder Woman gracing the cover. Says Steinem, “Wonder Woman symbolizes many of the values of the women’s culture that Feminists are now trying to introduce into the mainstream: strength and self-reliance for women, sisterhood and mutual support among women, peacefulness and esteem for human life, a diminishment both of ‘masculine’ aggression and of the belief that violence is the only way of solving conflicts.”

Gloria Steinem led the charge and lobbied DC Comics relentlessly to restore Wonder Woman’s Amazon origin story, as well as her historic super powers. With some reluctance, they agreed. Steinem remembers, “the person in charge of Wonder Woman calling me up from DC Comics. He said, ‘Okay. She has her magical powers back, her lasso, her bracelets, she has Paradise Island back, and she has a black African Amazon sister named Nubia. Now will you leave me alone!’”

In 1975, Lynda Carter’s television fans were mesmerized by her on the hit series “Wonder Woman,” and Carter embraced the role with gusto. The actress thought up the famous spin by which Diana Prince transformed into her powerful alter ego. She enthusiastically performed her own stunts, including one in which she was suspended from a helicopter as it flew through a canyon.

In December 2016, the United Nations dropped the superhero Wonder Woman as an ambassador for empowering girls and women after a brief stint that drew widespread criticism. The appointment prompted an angry backlash when more than 44,000 people signed a petition to appoint a non-fictional character to the role. “It is alarming that the United Nations would consider using a character with an overtly sexualized image at a time when the headline news in United States and the world is the objectification of women and girls,” the petition’s authors wrote. Deploying her as a role model for the UN was culturally insensitive in many parts of the world, the petition added. The angry response in some quarters prompted the UN to make celebrating the achievements of “real-life Wonder Women” one of the campaign’s core goals. The campaign around the comic book character lasted for less than two months.

In June of 2017, seventy-five years after her creation, a long awaited major motion picture was released. The film “Wonder Woman” stars actress Gal Gadot, an Israeli, in the title role and is directed by Patty Jenkins. This is the first action film directed by a woman with a budget over $100 million. The film has set numerous box office records. A sequel, Wonder Woman 2, is set to be released on December 13, 2019.

October 13th, 2017 is the release date for the major motion picture “Marston and the Wonder Women.” The film is billed as the true story of William Moulton Marston, the polyamorous relationship between his wife and mistress, the creation of his beloved comic book character “Wonder Woman,” and the controversy the comic generated in its earlier years.

To learn more about the Wonder Woman exhibit at aSHEville Museum, please view our website at or call us at 828-785-5722.

Heidi Swann
Written by Heidi Swann