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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 948

Papers of William Moulton Marston, 1852-1975


Correspondence; photographs; published and unpublished articles; genealogical notes; clippings; diary entries; etc.; of William Moulton Marston, psychologist and author, and his lover Olive Byrne.


  • 1852-1975

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Collection is open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by William Moulton Marston is held by the President and Fellows of Harvard College for the Schlesinger Library. Copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


2.42 linear feet ((2 + ½ file box, 1 folio box, 1 folio+ box) plus 6 photograph folders, 1 folio folder, 3 folio+ folder, 1 folio photograph folder, 1 folio+ photograph folder)
The collection consists of correspondence; photographs; published and unpublished articles; genealogical notes; clippings; diary entries; etc. The bulk of the material belonged to or was created by William Moulton Marston. Material belonging to Olive Byrne is limited to two drafts of an article entitled "Mothers on Trial: By Their Children You May Know Them." Material belonging to William Moulton Marston include a series of letters written to Marston and family by his mother Annie (Moulton) Marston. They include descriptions of the activities of his mother and aunts, particularly of their time with the New England Women's Club and the Riverside Club, family illnesses and deaths, aging and physical ailments, and a number of comments about an elderly female relative seemingly suffering from dementia. One letter mentions the publication of the first Wonder Woman comic (other than these references, there is no material documenting Marston's work on the Wonder Woman comic). Other material by Marston consists of published articles on the psychology of women; material from a research study at Columbia University using the lie detector to determine personality; a baby book describing the first year of his life; several transcript fragments of Marston's journals regarding his children; and a scrapbook documenting his high school football career, work on systolic blood pressure and the lie detector, work with the motion picture industry, and his prediction that women will rule the United States in one thousand years. Photographs in the collection document Marston's time in high school and at Harvard University (including playing team football); his life with Elizabeth (Holloway) Marston, Olive Byrne, and their four children; and his work with the lie detector and systolic blood pressure test, particularly when employed by Universal Studios. Folder titles were created by the archivist and arranged alphabetically.

Additional material received in 2019 (accession number 2019-M4) was added to the collection in March 2019. These materials are housed in #3.1-6F+B.1m. All other files remain in the same order. Folders are listed in intellectual, not numerical, order. This material consists of the correspondence of William Henry Moulton; an article written by and a scrapbook re: Margaret Sanger compiled by Olive Byrne; Marston's law licence, report cards, membership certificates, military papers, football score card, poetry, and several published articles and a manuscript draft by Marston. Additional material includes a volume by Ferdinand Moulton entitled Army and Navy Pension Laws, and Bounty Land Laws of the United States; draft and published articles by Henry William Moulton and Dalton Moulton; Stanford-Binet test results for Donn Marston; a small amount of genealogical material re: the Moulton family; and several photographs including one of Marston as a young boy, several of Moulton and Whittemore family members, and one of Moulton Castle in Newburyport, Massachusetts (no longer standing).

The correspondence of William Henry Moulton includes a series of twenty-five letters sent his wife, Susan (Whittemore) Moulton, in the early years of the United States Civil War. These letters document camp conditions, troop movements, and various engagements with Confederate troops in the Washington, D.C. area, Virginia, and Maryland, as well as the longing of a Union soldier for his family. Included are references to troops having encountered General Stonewall Jackson, General George B. McClellan, General Charles Griffen, and President Abraham Lincoln, and having traveled to Washington, DC; Alexandria, Virginia; and Fredericksburg, Sharpsburg, and Hagerstown, Maryland. Following his release from duty to Company C of the 32nd Massachusetts Volunteers, Moulton worked as a recruiter for the state of Massachusetts for the remainder of the war. His letter book was once a ledger book, or some other financial record, but most pages have been cut to the margin, and letters and other documents have been glued to the page stubs. A very small amount of financial information remains. Most letters concern Moulton's work as Commissioner of Enrollment for the Fifth District of Massachusetts in Salem, his time in Company H of the 32nd Regiment, Massachusetts Infantry Volunteers, and business, politics, and daily life in Newburyport, Massachusetts. Correspondents include Army officials, men with whom Moulton had served in Company H, state and local government officials, family and friends, and business partners. Some letters provide details of battles and field maneuvers, and many letters ask for Moulton's help, recommendations, or favors. The smaller amount of antebellum material largely concerns Moulton's work as a teacher and school principal in New England.

Most of the photographs in this collection are or will be digitized and available online. Other than photographs and published articles, there is no other material documenting his work on the systolic blood pressure test or the lie detector. Folder titles were created by the archivist. The collection is arranged alphabetically by individual followed by photographs.


William Moulton Marston was born in 1893 to Annie (Moulton) Marston and Frederick William Marston in Saugus, Massachusetts. He graduated from Malden High School in ca.1911. While at Malden High School he was president of the Literary Society and a member of the football team. Following graduation he attended Harvard University receiving a BA in 1915 (Phi Beta Kappa) and his LL.B. (Bachelor in Law) in 1918. Both he and his future wife entered graduate school in psychology ca.1918, Marston at Harvard University and Elizabeth (Holloway) Marston at Radcliffe College. Elizabeth (Holloway) Marston had received a BA in psychology from Mount Holyoke College in 1915 and her LL.B. from Boston University Law School in 1918. Marston received his PhD and Elizabeth (Holloway) Marston received her MA in 1921. The couple married in 1915.

After completion of his PhD, Marston taught psychology at American University in Washington, DC, and at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. At Tufts (ca.1925), Marston met student Olive Byrne (daughter of feminist Ethel Byrne who was Margaret Sanger's sister), with whom he began a sexual relationship and who ultimately came to live with the Marston couple. While living with the couple, Byrne assumed the name Olive Richard and pretended to have been previously married in order to hide the true nature of her relationship with William and Elizabeth Marston. Elizabeth Marston had two children: Moulton ("Pete") (born 1919) and Olive Ann (born 1933), named after Olive Byrne. Olive Byrne also had two children by Marston, Byrne (born 1931), and Donn (born 1933). Olive took care of the home and the children, while Elizabeth worked to support the family indexing the documents of the first fourteen Congresses; lecturing on law, ethics, and psychology at American and New York universities; serving as an editor for Encyclopædia Britannica and McCall's; and serving as assistant to the chief executive at Metropolitan Life Insurance, when Marston was unemployed and after his death in 1947.

While completing his PhD at Harvard University, Marston developed the systolic blood pressure test, wrote about its use in detecting deception in a number of professional psychology journals, and it was the subject of his dissertation entitled, "Systolic Blood Pressure Symptoms of Deception and Constituent Mental States." His systolic blood pressure test is one component of current polygraph examinations. Marston also employed his test in his position at Universal Studios as Director of Public Services (1929). It appears that he tested emotional reactions to films and offered suggestions regarding rewriting certain portions of those films based on the emotional reaction they elicited in viewers. In addition to his writing regarding his systolic blood pressure test, Marston frequently wrote on the psychology of women throughout the 1930s. He also wrote a number of popular psychology books, including Emotions of Normal People (1928), Try Living (1937), and March On! Facing Life with Courage (1941). In the 1940s he began to develop the comic-book character of Wonder Woman, originally called "Suprema," combining the "strength of Superman" with the "allure of a good and beautiful woman." Inspired by early feminists, he was an advocate of fostering women's talents and abilities and worked closely with his wife, Elizabeth (Holloway) Marston, and Olive Byrne on the evolution of Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman, an Amazon princess who fought crime during World War II in the United States debuted in 1941, and was modeled on Elizabeth (Holloway) Marston and Olive Byrne. Marston continued to write the Wonder Woman comic until his death from cancer in 1947. Elizabeth and Olive continued to live together until Olive's death in 1985. Elizabeth (Holloway) Marston died in 1993. Marston was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.

Physical Location

Collection stored off site: researchers must request access 36 hours before use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession number: 2016-M222. Accession number 2019-M4 was added to the collection in March 2019.

These papers of William Moulton Marston were given to the Schlesinger Library by his granddaughters, Nancy M. Wycoff and Peggy M. Van Cleave, through Jill Lepore in December 2016, and in January 2019.

Related Material:

There is related material at the Schlesinger Library; see William Moulton Marston Papers (MC 920).

Processing Information

Processed: May 2018

By: Mark Vassar, with assistance from Henry Shull and Margaret Dalton.

Updated and additional material added: March 2019
Link to catalog
Marston, William Moulton, 1893-1947. Papers of William Moulton Marston, 1852-1975: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

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