Historian Explores Wonder Woman’s Role as Feminist Icon
Keira Williams won a Smithsonian fellowship to research the superheroine’s creator.
Keira Williams’s first book investigated the gender politics of a southern woman who drowned her two children then spent nine days telling the story of a black man kidnapping them. For her second book, she found a lighter topic – Wonder Woman.
She found the man behind Wonder Woman was a woefully unrecognized polyamorous feminist who was part of a century of trends regarding the portrayal of feminism and matriarchal societies in U.S. popular culture.
Williams, an assistant professor who teaches history and women’s studies for the Honors College, heard of William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, when a photojournalist friend called her from the Smithsonian. This friend was taking pictures of some of the library’s collections and had just learned about Marston’s unusual life, which spanned law school, teaching psychology and going to Hollywood before creating the country’s most well-known superheroine.”
“I really don’t have much of an argument yet, except a vague one that each of these matriarchies will tell us something specific about that era in American culture,” Williams said. “But I don’t know what the specifics are yet because I haven’t done all of the research in order to be able to compare them all.”
The historian recently received a residential scholarship from the Smithsonian Libraries to research Marston and his varied professional and personal life as part of her overall research on a new book. She’ll compare matriarchies in pop culture ranging from feminist utopian novels of the early 1900s to the men’s rights movement that has surged in recent years. She’ll spend a month next summer at the Dibner Library of the History of Science and Technology going through Marston’s personal papers, reading published clips about him and reading every single Wonder Woman comic from 1941 to today, plus early unpublished sketches.
“I’m interested just to get my hands on some of those and see what they look like,” she said.