Wonder Woman: Super Suffragette
As of July 10, 2017, the summer blockbuster movie, Wonder Woman, topped $745 million in box office receipts. Did you know that her character was inspired by American history?
The creators of Wonder Woman – William Moulton Marston, Elizabeth Holloway, H.G. Peter, and Olive Byrne – all had ties to the suffragette movement in the 1910s and 1920s. As Jill Lepore noted in her article “The Last Amazon” in The New Yorker,
In 1911, when Marston was a Harvard freshman, he saw the British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst address a crowd in Harvard Square, after she was banned from speaking in Harvard Yard, where women were not allowed to speak. In 1912, Elizabeth Holloway was a sophomore at Mount Holyoke when students paraded for suffrage, wearing buttons that read “Votes for Women!” H. G. Peter, the artist Marston hired to draw Wonder Woman, drew pro-suffrage cartoons for magazines. Marston took Wonder Woman’s origin story straight out of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1915 feminist utopia, “Herland.” In 1917, Marston was in Washington, D.C., when suffragists held a vigil outside the White House, carrying signs that read, “Mr. President, How Long Must We Wait for Liberty?”.
Jump to 1940 to when Marston discussed in an interview the unfulfilled potential of the comic book medium. The interview got the attention of comics publisher Max Gaines who invited Marston to become an educational consultant for companies that later combined to become DC Comics. Marston wanted to create a new superhero, and his wife Elizabeth suggested that he make the new character female.Olive Byrne, who lived with the couple, is created for being the inspiration for the character’s appearance. H.G. Peter was the illustrator who created Wonder Woman, but was uncredited.
While other female superheroes came along, Wonder Woman arguably has made the greatest impact. Wonder Woman made her debut in 1941 and became one of DC Comics most popular characters, all thanks to her creators’ experiences with the suffragette movement.
Wonder Woman has come a long way from the suffragette movement. Those of us of a certain age remember Lynda Carter’s portrayal of Wonder Woman in the 1975-1979 television show. Miss Piggy’s take of the heroine – called Wonder Pig of course – on The Muppet Show in 1980 was one of many references in the form of impersonations, costume and character mentions have appeared in numerous television programs.
How do you think the suffragettes of yesteryear would respond to the Wonder Woman character? Would they be offended, or think that she is a good role model? Please post your answers at www.facebook.com/CertellOrg/.
For more information, check out these websites:
Cleveland.com explores how female superheroes evolved before Wonder Woman.
Women haven’t always been treated well or with respect in the world of comics. Screen Rant provides an overview of how there were no female superheroes prior to 1940, when their roles were either the victim, the bombshell, or the villain.
From Princess Leia to Ghostbusters, your favorite female characters have become feminist icons – read this Vox article to learn how.
The New York Times talks about Patty Jenkins, the director behind the blockbuster film.
And lastly – read how DC Comics responded to a young girl who wrote complaining about the lack of female comic characters.
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