I was in New York City this weekend for all manner of fun (the Central Park Zoo! Fascinating walking tours! Macbeth on Broadway with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga! A surprise upgrade of my hotel room to one with a disco ball tiled round bathtub!), but the main reason for my visit was the opening of the “Wonder Women: NYC’s Heroes of Heterodoxy” exhibit at the City Reliquary museum in Brooklyn. For the past six months I’ve been working with the team there, helping them plan the show and writing the texts that accompanied all of the artifacts, and on Friday the show opened to the public for the first time. It was great to be there and finally meet so many of the people I’ve been working with over Zoom, and to see how well the exhibit came together!
The City Reliquary is all about New York City’s history, so the exhibit examines Wonder Woman through this lens, focusing on the women who influenced the character behind the scenes and the surprisingly numerous connections to New York City throughout Wonder Woman’s past. Sisters Margaret Sanger and Ethel Higgins Byrne opened the nation’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn in 1916, leading to their arrest and the rise of the birth control movement, a seemingly non-relevant fact until you realize that Ethel’s daughter Olive later began a polyamorous relationship with Wonder Woman creator William Moulton Marston and his wife Elizabeth Holloway.
The Marston polycule worked together to hone Marston’s psychological theories on female superiority in his book Emotions of Normal People while they were all at Columbia University in 1928, and New York City was the homebase for DC Comics when he pitched Wonder Woman, based on those same theories, in 1941. Joye Hummel, the first woman to write Wonder Woman, met Marston while at secretarial school in Manhattan. Dr. Hilde Mosse worked closely with Dr. Fredric Wertham, both at the Lafargue Clinic in Harlem and on his 1951 anti-comics text Seduction of the Innocent in which Mosse provided the bulk of the analysis of Wonder Woman. Underground cartoonist Trina Robbins had a boutique in New York City around the same time Diana Prince gave up her superpowers and opened her own boutique in the Lower East Side during the Mod Era, and Trina would go on to be the first woman to draw multiple issues of a Wonder Woman comic. The connections are many, and beautifully displayed at the City Reliquary.
There are comics, of course, both original printings and reproductions as well as some original artwork. Each era of Wonder Woman’s history is represented well in comic form. Beyond that, the show gets really cool. There are several Wonder Woman costumes, including replicas from the 1970s show, along with a few Mego Wonder Woman dolls from the same era. Maybe my favourite item in the whole exhibit is a WAVES uniform from the 1940s, which connects to Wonder Woman’s clear support for women joining the armed forces during World War II and Lynda Carter’s Diana Prince being a member of the WAVES in the first season of the show. Everything is presented in visually captivating ways, and the exhibit is both fun and informative (I hope it’s informative, anyway, since that was my job!).
The exhibit also features a zine that further explores the character’s history and connection to New York City, including essays from Andy Mangels, Karen Green, and Noah Berlatsky. I did some of the shorter write-ups in there, too, and made a “Wonder Women of History” page for Joye Hummel that mirrors the classic feature from the 1940s comics. It’s also got lots of cool artwork and a reproduction of Trina Robbins’ classic “Wonder Person Gets Knocked Up” story. The zine comes free with your ticket to the museum.
If you’re in the New York area or planning to visit soon, you should definitely head over to the City Reliquary in Brooklyn and check out the show! They’re open Saturday and Sunday, noon to 6pm, and weekdays by appointment, plus they’ll be doing lots of fun programs in the evening related to the exhibit over the next few months. The current plan is for the show to run through the end of the year, so if you find yourself nearby, give it a look! It’s a real labour of love from a lot of very talented people, and it was so fun to get to be a part of it. I’m very proud of how it turned out.