On This Day … 20 February

People (Births)

  • 1893 – Elizabeth Holloway Marston, American psychologist and author (d. 1993).

People (Deaths)

  • 1996 – Solomon Asch, American psychologist and academic (b. 1907).

Elizabeth Holloway Marston

Elizabeth Holloway Marston (20 February 1893 to 27 March 1993) was an American attorney and psychologist. She is credited, with her husband William Moulton Marston, with the development of the systolic blood pressure measurement used to detect deception; the predecessor to the polygraph.

She is also credited as the inspiration for her husband’s comic book creation Wonder Woman, a character who was also fashioned on their polyamorous life partner, Olive Byrne.

Career and Family

Elizabeth received her BA in psychology from Mount Holyoke College in 1915 and her LLB from the Boston University School of Law in 1918, one of just three female graduates of the School of Law that year.

Elizabeth married William Moulton Marston in 1915. She first gave birth at age 35, then returned to work. During her long and productive career, she indexed the documents of the first fourteen Congresses, lectured on law, ethics and psychology at several American universities, and served as an editor for Encyclopaedia Britannica and McCall’s. She cowrote a textbook, Integrative Psychology, with her husband and C. Daly King. In 1933, she became the assistant to the chief executive at Metropolitan Life Insurance.

Sometime in the late 1920s, Olive Byrne, a young woman William had met while teaching at Tufts University, joined the household. Elizabeth Marston had two children, Pete and Olive Ann, while Olive Byrne also gave birth to two of William’s children, Byrne and Donn. The Marstons legally adopted Olive’s boys, but Olive remained a part of the family, even after William’s death in 1947.

Olive stayed home with the children while Marston worked. Continuing at MetLife until she was sixty-five, Elizabeth sponsored all four children through college – and Byrne through medical school and Donn through law school as well. She and Olive continued living together until Olive’s death in 1990. Both Olive and Marston “embodied the feminism of the day.”

Systolic Blood-Pressure Test

Marston enrolled in the master’s degree programme at Radcliffe College while her husband William attended the doctoral program in psychology at Harvard, which at that time enrolled only male students. She worked with William on his thesis, which concerned the correlation between blood pressure levels and deception. He later developed this into the systolic blood-pressure test used to detect deception that was the predecessor to the polygraph test.

In 1921, Marston received her MA from Radcliffe and William received his PhD from Harvard. Although Marston is not listed as William’s collaborator in his early work, a number of writers refer directly and indirectly to Elizabeth’s work on her husband’s blood pressure/deception research. She appears in a picture taken in his polygraph laboratory in the 1920s, reproduced in a 1938 publication by William.

In Popular Culture

  • Marston’s life is depicted in Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, a fictional biographical drama also portraying her husband William; Olive Byrne; and the creation of Wonder Woman.
    • Marston is portrayed in the film by British actress Rebecca Hall.
  • Asteroid 101813 Elizabethmarston was named in her memory.
    • The official naming citation was published by the Minor Planet Center on 25 September 2018 (M.P.C. 111800) along with the naming of Asteroid 102234 Olivebyrne.

Solomon Asch

Solomon Eliot Asch (14 September 1907 to 20 February 1996) was a Polish-American gestalt psychologist and pioneer in social psychology. He created seminal pieces of work in impression formation, prestige suggestion, conformity, and many other topics. His work follows a common theme of Gestalt psychology that the whole is not only greater than the sum of its parts, but the nature of the whole fundamentally alters the parts. Asch stated: “Most social acts have to be understood in their setting, and lose meaning if isolated. No error in thinking about social facts is more serious than the failure to see their place and function” (Asch, 1952, p. 61).

Asch is most well known for his conformity experiments, in which he demonstrated the influence of group pressure on opinions. A Review of General Psychology survey, published in 2002, ranked Asch as the 41st most cited psychologist of the 20th century.

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