The Surprising Origins of Wonder Woman
Image credit: Warner Bros.
From Our Friends at The Portalist
Today, Wonder Woman is viewed by many as a feminist icon. But as Wonder Woman's popularity endures, the actual women who shaped and inspired the comic book character are often overlooked-including Margaret Sanger.
Sanger is known as the founder of Planned Parenthood, although she viewed that name as euphemistic and preferred the organization's original title, the American Birth Control League. In the early 20th century, after watching her own mother suffer through 18 pregnancies and witnessing the dangers of back-alley abortions first-hand in her job as a nurse, Sanger took bold action for contraceptive rights.
She violated postal obscenity laws to distribute a monthly newsletter promoting birth control (with a slogan Wonder Woman would approve of: "No Gods, No Masters"); opened the first-ever birth control clinic in the United States in 1916, alongside her sister Ethel Byrne; and prompted a decisive court battle that, finally, in 1937, ended the federal ban on contraception.
In other words, Sanger got shit done, and drastically altered the national conversation surrounding women's reproductive rights. Unfortunately, she was also a supporter of eugenics-at least for part of her life-and often used arguments and language associated with eugenics in her writing.
PBS has an informative breakdown of Sanger's confusing relationship with eugenics (a relationship that some anti-abortion activists exaggerate to discredit Planned Parenthood). They note that Sanger's support of eugenics may have been strategic, designed to give the contraceptive movement more credibility by aligning it with popular eugenics ideals. Many historians believe she actually opposed the eugenicist theory that poverty was hereditary, arguing instead that environmental factors led to social struggles.
Nevertheless, Sanger remains a controversial figure today, 50 years after her death. But during her lifetime, she enjoyed vocal support from a surprising source: Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston.
Marston was a contentious figure in his own right. He worked as a psychologist, screenwriter, lawyer, entrepreneur, and polygraph developer before turning to comics, and was the center of a national scandal in 1922.
Marston was an expert witness in a controversial landmark case, Frye v. United States, in which he attempted to use his polygraph technology to clear the defendant James Frye of murder allegations. The same month as Frye's appeal, Marston was arrested by federal agents and charged with fraud for allegations relating to his role as treasurer for the Boston firm United Dress Goods. Marston was eventually cleared, but not before his reputation had been tarnished. The charges cost him his job as chairman of the psychology department at American University, and, by discrediting an expert witness in the Frye case, may have also cost James Frye his freedom.
Despite the controversies that plagued Marston's career, his personal life was even more scandalous - at least for the time.
Wonder Woman hits US theaters on June 2nd, 2017.