Friday, November 28, 2014

Jill Lepore

Jill Lepore's latest book is The Secret History of Wonder Woman.

From her Q & A with Terry Gross:

GROSS: I mean, one of the really amazing things that you've uncovered in your book is that the creator of Wonder Woman, William Moulton Marston, lived in a menage a trois, eventually, but earlier in his life, there were two women he was with. There was his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, and another woman, Olive Byrne, and Olive Byrne was Margaret Sanger's niece. And so they were in a relationship together. He had four children by those two women. And of course, they couldn't make it public. But describe a little bit this arrangement that he had, first, with these two women.

LEPORE: So Marston married his childhood sweetheart in 1915, when they both graduated from college. He graduated from Harvard that year, and she graduated from Mount Holyoke. This Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, who becomes Betty Marston. And she was quite an interesting and ambitious woman, a really career-oriented woman of that generation of - you know, one of the first generations of women to go to college.

And Marston embarks on academic career. He first teaches at American University, and then, in something of the scandal, he loses that job. And he ends up teaching at Tufts in 1925, where he falls in love with one of his students who's a senior there - Olive Byrne.

Olive Byrne's mother is Ethel Byrne, who is the sister of Margaret Sanger. Ethel Byrne and Margaret Sanger together founded what becomes Planned Parenthood in 1916, when they opened up the first birth control clinic in the United States in Brooklyn. And they are immediately arrested within days of the clinic opening. An undercover policewoman comes in and asks for contraception - contraceptives, and Ethyl Byrne explains how to use a pessary or a diaphragm.

Ethyl Byrne is convicted on obscenity charges and sent to prison for a 30-day sentence. And she goes on a hunger strike, and she says, this is more important than the right to vote because women die every day in New York of abortions - of illegal abortions. They can't get contraception. And I will gladly give my life in this cause. As she's then, actually, quietly ushered offstage by Margaret Sanger, who makes a deal with the governor of New York that if Ethyl Byrne will never again be involved in the birth control movement, she can be pardoned, and her life will be saved.

And so Ethyl Byrne really sort of disappears from the birth control movement at that point, much against her will. Meanwhile, though...[read on or listen to the interview]
--Marshal Zeringue