This summer the blockbuster film Wonder Woman has already earned more than $724 million. The NMWA Library and Research Center staff could not resist swinging their own golden lasso by presenting Wonder Women!, a celebration of women who are fearless, adventurous, and larger than life. Drawn from the wide-ranging holdings of the library’s special collections, this exhibition features women of both fact and fiction demonstrating great bravery and taking action against the wrongs of the world.
The Wonder Women! exhibition was inspired by the NMWA Library’s recent acquisition of the first regular monthly issue of the feminist Ms. magazine, founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pittman Hughes, which hit newsstands in July 1972. In an effort to visually differentiate Ms. from other women’s magazines, the staff selected an image of Wonder Woman for the cover, fighting for “peace and justice in ’72.”
The illustration was by Murphy Anderson, a longtime artist for DC Comics. The banner “Wonder Woman for President” likely references Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm’s bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination for president that year. Anderson also reflects the country’s anxiety about the war in Vietnam as a giant Wonder Woman strides with urgency down a main street in America, rescuing part of the town with her golden lasso, while shielding the street from a raging jungle battlefield placed uncomfortably close behind the shop fronts.
The cover was also timely as a reboot of the Wonder Woman comic book was due to be published in 1973—this time with its first woman editor, Dorothy Woolfolk. Ms. magazine featured Wonder Woman on the cover again for its 40th anniversary issue in 2012. The 2012 issue featured Wonder Woman bounding down Pennsylvania Avenue, the site of famous women’s rights marches for more than a century.
The article inside, “Wonder Woman Revisited” by Joanne Edgar, quotes the character’s originator, Charles Moulton: “Wonder Woman has force bound by love and, with her strength, represents what every woman should be and really is. She corrects evil and brings happiness. Wonder Woman proves that women are superior to men because they have love in addition to force.” The combination of strength and love is apparent in the materials featured in Wonder Woman!, from Judy Chicago shedding the patriarchy of her given name, to lighthouse keeper Grace Darling who risked her life on a night in 1838 to save victims of a shipwreck.
Visit NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center to celebrate the legacy of wonder women!
—Sarah Osborne Bender is the director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.