Biography of Dr. William Moulton Marston

Instructor: Gaines Arnold

Gaines has a Master of Science in Education.

Dr. William Moulton Marston was an inventor, scientist, psychologist, writer, and comic book character creator, and has a long list of accomplishments for a relatively short life.

The Renaissance Man

The idea of the Renaissance man is one linked directly to men such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Rene Descartes, who combined interests in science, the arts, invention and philosophy to shape the world. This focus on many areas and the achievement of greatness in them all can be seen in the life of Dr. William Moulton Marston. He was a scientist, psychologist, inventor, writer, comic book character creator and feminist theorist. He was able to pack several lifetimes worth of accomplishments into 53 short years.

Scientist and Inventor

Marston was born to Frederick William and Annie Dalton Marston in 1893 at home in Saugus, Massachusetts. Little has been written of his early life, but information is plentiful regarding his college days at Harvard University.

While at Harvard, he received a general Bachelor of Arts, a law degree and a Ph.D in psychology. He worked on the degrees in law and psychology simultaneously, but is reported to have spent most of his time in the psychology lab working with renowned psychologist, Dr. Hugo Munsterberg. During this period, his wife made an apparently offhand comment that led to a great invention. According to an article from the National Research Council, she told Marston that 'when she got mad or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb.' He thought about the truthfulness of this statement and began conducting research into the physical manifestations of psychological changes.

He found that when a person lies, their blood pressure increases. After many different tests and a great amount of research in the lab, he wrote a series of scholarly articles about how deception effects blood pressure readings. Basically, when a person is under the stress of trying to concoct a lie, their blood pressure increases. According to his own published work, Dr. Marston successfully determined the guilt or innocence of 97 out of a 100 criminal detainees while studying his method at the Boston criminal court. Blood pressure changes were later included as a key element of current lie detection systems.


His work as inventor during this time led to a career of distinction as a psychologist. After receiving his Ph.D in 1921, he began to work as a professor for various universities, including Tufts and American Universities, perfecting work he had started in college on how personality is formed. He worked on a theory, which has come to be known as DISC Theory, which broke personality down into four quadrants: dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance. These were placed on an axes of passiveness or activity. His research led him to a belief that men want to be unencumbered, which can lead to violence. However, when a man subordinates his tendencies to the loving authority of a woman, they both are complete. Dr. Marston practiced his theory in his own life, as he completed himself with his legal wife Elizabeth and his live-in mistress Olivia. The three produced four offspring and reportedly formed a close bond. After his death, the two women continued to live together for more than 35 years.

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