On This Day … 09 May

People (Births)

  • 1893 – William Moulton Marston, American psychologist and author (d. 1947).

People (Deaths)

  • 2012 – Bertram Cohler, American psychologist, psychoanalyst, and academic (b. 1938).

William Moulton Marston

William Moulton Marston (09 May 1893 to 02 May 1947), also known by the pen name Charles Moulton, was an American psychologist who, with his wife Elizabeth Holloway, invented an early prototype of the lie detector. He was also known as a self-help author and comic book writer who created the character Wonder Woman.

Two women, his wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston, and their polyamorous life partner, Olive Byrne, greatly influenced Wonder Woman’s creation.

He was inducted into the Comic Book Hall of Fame in 2006.

Psychologist and Inventor

Marston was the creator of the systolic blood pressure test, which became one component of the modern polygraph invented by John Augustus Larson in Berkeley, California. Marston’s wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, suggested a connection between emotion and blood pressure to William, observing that, “[w]hen she got mad or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb”.

Although Elizabeth is not listed as Marston’s collaborator in his early work, Lamb, Matte (1996), and others refer directly and indirectly to Elizabeth’s own work on her husband’s research. She also appears in a picture taken in his laboratory in the 1920s (reproduced by Marston, 1938).

Marston set out to commercialise Larson’s invention of the polygraph, when he subsequently embarked on a career in entertainment and comic book writing and appeared as a salesman in ads for Gillette Razors, using a polygraph motif. From his psychological work, Marston became convinced that women were more honest than men in certain situations and could work faster and more accurately. During his lifetime, Marston championed the latent abilities and causes of the women of his day.

Marston was also a writer of essays in popular psychology. And he published a 1928 book Emotions of Normal People, a defence of many sexual taboos, using much of Byrne’s original research she had done for her doctorate. He dedicated the work to her, Holloway, his mother, his aunt, and Huntley. It received almost no attention from the rest of the academic community other than a review, written by Byrne herself, under her alternative name Olive Richard in The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology.

Emotions of Normal People also elaborated on the DISC Theory. Marston viewed people behaving along two axes, with their attention being either passive or active, depending on the individual’s perception of his or her environment as either favourable or antagonistic. By placing the axes at right angles, four quadrants form, with each describing a behavioural pattern:

  • Dominance produces activity in an antagonistic environment.
  • Inducement produces activity in a favourable environment.
  • Submission produces passivity in a favourable environment.
  • Compliance produces passivity in an antagonistic environment.

Marston posited that there is a masculine notion of freedom that is inherently anarchic and violent and an opposing feminine notion based on “Love Allure” that leads to an ideal state of submission to loving authority.

Bertram Cohler

Bertram Joseph Cohler (03 December 1938 to 09 May 2012) was an American psychologist, psychoanalyst, and educator primarily associated with the University of Chicago, the Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, and Harvard University. He advocated a life course approach to understanding human experience and subjectivity, drawing on insights from psychoanalysis, developmental psychology, personology, psychological anthropology, narrative studies, and the interdisciplinary field of human development.

Cohler authored or co-authored over 200 articles and books. He contributed to numerous scholarly fields, including the study of adversity, resilience and coping; mental illness and treatment; family and social relations in normal development and mental illness; and the study of personal narrative in social and historical context. He made particular contributions to the study of sexual identity over the life course, to the psychoanalytic understanding of homosexuality, and to the study of personal narratives of Holocaust survivors.

Other than his graduate study at Harvard, Cohler spent his career at the University of Chicago and affiliated institutions, where he was repeatedly recognized as an educator and a builder of bridges across disciplines.

He was treated for oesophageal cancer in 2011, but became ill from a related pneumonia and died on 09 May 2012 not far from his home in Hyde Park, Chicago.