Way back in the 1940s, decades before the Justice League first appeared, DC’s premiere superhero team was the Justice Society of America. The all-male team was always off fighting Nazis and other evildoers in All-Star Comics, but the most famous character to come from the book was Wonder Woman, who appeared for the first time ever in All-Star Comics #8. She soon became an honorary member of the Justice Society, and some of you may have seen a version of this ad that listed her as the team’s secretary:
Some form of this ad appeared in several issues of All-Star Comics, and it’s been reprinted in various books and on several websites over the years, and the story behind Wonder Woman’s secretarial role is an unusual one.
In All-Star Comics #13, Wonder Woman fought alongside the team and so impressed her fellow members that they offered her the secretary gig for the team. She was, of course, beyond thrilled to accept:
And here’s how the team was introduced the following issue:
All of the male heroes, Hawkman, Starman, Atom, Doctor Fate, Doctor Midnite, Spectre, Johnny Thunder, and Sandman, were listed, and then “as secretary to the Justice-Society” came Wonder Woman. Her secretarial role was attached to her introduction for years to come.
Plus, she didn’t do much of anything. Here she is later on in All-Star Comics #14, electing to stay behind while the rest of the team goes off to Europe to foil a nefarious scheme:
And this went on for a while. Here’s Wonder Woman TWENTY issues later in All-Star Comics #33 staying behind yet again:
Damn patriarchy, right?! You can’t have a woman be a full member of the team, she has to be a secretary. And then anytime Hitler gets up to something, you have to leave the woman behind because it’s men’s work. Those sexist fiends!! Wonder Woman’s feminist creator, William Moulton Marston, must have been outraged!!
Well, he was outraged, but for completely different reasons. When another author wrote Wonder Woman in one of her first Justice Society appearances, Marston was fairly irate. He demanded to rewrite the story and wanted complete control of the character after that, which he was given. But seeing as he and H.G. Peter were busy producing Wonder Woman stories for Wonder Woman, Sensation Comics, AND Comic Cavalcade, it ended up that All-Star Comics fell by the wayside. The book had a couple Marston/Peter Wonder Woman stories over the years, but usually Wonder Woman just appeared in the first few pages, had a line or two, and then stayed behind while the rest of the team went off to fight the bad guys.
So the guys behind All-Star Comics weren’t actually patriarchal, sexist fiends. Well, at least not in this regard. Generally, chances are they were… it was 1940s America, after all. But in this instance, Wonder Woman was relegated to the background because Marston wanted to be the only one to write her. Ironically, the demands of Wonder Woman’s feminist creator led to Wonder Woman taking a very unfeminist role with the team.
By the late 1940s, however, Marston had gotten very ill, and he passed away in 1947. Around this time, Wonder Woman took a more active role in the Justice Society. In fact, in All-Star Comics #38 it was Wonder Woman who brought in the Justice Society’s second female member, Black Canary:
Unfortunately, by the time Wonder Woman was able to do more in the Justice Society, All-Star Comics wasn’t long for the world. The book was cancelled in 1951, and Wonder Woman was the only character whose solo series survived. It would be more than a decade before most of the Justice Society would again appear in comics, but Wonder Woman stayed in print the entire time.
So yeah, Wonder Woman was the Justice Society’s secretary, just not for the usual sexist reasons we’d expect. There was no lack of sexism in 1940s comic books, but in this particular situation there were other factors at play. Go figure!!