Jill Lepore is Wonder Woman!

Jill Lepore is Wonder Woman!

I've just discovered a new favorite author to add to my list. Yes, a list. Because how could anyone have just one favorite author? That's ludicrous!

Jill Lepore. Harvard American History Professor. Author. Staff writer for The New Yorker. Charismatic presenter!

The author of The Secret History of Wonder Woman was at the Nourse Theater last night and she was delightfully thoughtful and witty. I felt like I was listening to an old friend describe the fascinating results of her research project, which is probably the teacher in me relating to the teacher in Lepore. 


Her latest book is the origin story of how Wonder Woman hit the comic book page.

This history includes a creator considered to be the inventor of the lie-detector test who also lived in a secret threesome.

William Moulton Marsten's wife was the family bread winner, and his mistress was the nurturer. Each woman had two children by Marston, but the mistress gave up legal rights to her children and allowed Marston and his wife to adopt them.

Yes, indeed. Wonder Woman's maker was the embodiment of feminist contradiction, much like Wonder Woman herself is often criticized as a feminist contradiction.

The question "Can a woman have a family and a career?" began with the early 1900s New Woman movement. Marston's solution to this enduring question certainly benefitted him. Interestingly, I think an argument could be made that the two women also benefitted from the arrangement. After Marston died in 1947, the two women continued to live together. Now I have to read this book to find out more!

And Lepore made it easy to want to read her book. After giving a short slideshow on the highlights of her research, she sat down with Judson True for a conversation. At one point, True pointed out that Lepore's book has 80 pages of notes, she teaches at Harvard, she writes for The New Yorker, and she still finds time to write books. How? I'm guessing I'm not the only person in the audience who thought, "Well, she is Wonder Woman!"

But to address his question, she talked about teaching at Harvard and writing for The New Yorker. She had numerous metaphors, but my favorite was her comparison to making bread. My interpretation of her ideas was that there are essential ingredients needed to make bread, but you spice each bread up slightly differently. And as you experiment with those spices, you discover even better recipes. 

She was describing how teaching requires her to take her knowledge and break it down into pieces to help someone who knows very little or nothing about that subject understand it. She added that sometimes the people who don't know the subject may also not care about it.

The audience laughed.

Then she made a bit of a side comment; I felt like it was almost directed to her fellow teachers in the audience. She nodded and said that she forgot that sometimes people don't always know that some folks may not care about the subject.

The teachers know.

Lenore described how her job is to explain her subject in a way that makes students care. Lepore will try out an idea to help students with a concept and she sees how that goes. Sometimes it works and other times she has to try something different. She described a synergy among her various projects; each article makes her a better teacher, and teaching makes her a better writer.

So a history teacher who tells a compelling story and loves to write? And she clearly sees value in investigating the backstory of comic book characters, which I love! As a fan of many things labeled "geek," I often feel like academia doesn't take geek interests seriously. Last night Lepore described herself as a comic book newbie and admitted that she wasn't a fan. But she saw a political story, decided to search what sounded like a lot of archives, and discovered that Margaret Sanger, the founder of what we now know as Planned Parenthood, was the inspiration for Wonder Woman! How did I only just now discover Jill Lepore? 

If you would like to read some of Lepore's work related to Wonder Woman, she has two pieces in The New Yorker. Her article "The Last Amazon: Wonder Woman returns" summarizes her Wonder Woman book. Much of the research she highlights here was discussed last night.

Back in 2011, she wrote "Birthright: What's next for Planned Parenthood?" which gives some great details about Margaret Sanger, the woman who Lepore realized inspired Wonder Woman.

Terry Gross interviewed Jill Lepore on NPR's Fresh Air. "The Man Behind Wonder Woman Was Inspired By Both Suffragists And Centerfolds" is 45 minutes of backstory goodness. And that link includes two great drawings. One of Wonder Woman and another of a suffragette chaining herself to symbolize political oppression. And of course, NPR has even more Wonder Woman links!

Now excuse me as I go on a quest for more Wonder Woman resources!

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