When psychologist William Moulton Marston decided to create Wonder Woman in the early 1940s it was partly as a counter reaction against the male dominated field of superheroes. He intended that girls have a character to aspire to, who could be a role model both as a hero and as a woman. Although they seem outdated by our modern standards, the earliest Golden Age Wonder Woman comics did just that. They portrayed Wonder Woman as a woman capable of both going head-to-head with super villains, but her alter ego Diana Prince was also portrayed as exemplary in her personal and professional life. At the time it was still relatively uncommon for an unmarried woman to work in a place outside of her family’s place of business, but Diana Prince maintained her job in military intelligence while leading an independent life. This groundbreaking character was what Marston was after, but most assume that early Wonder Woman comics contained Diana and nothing else. Long before there were backup stories in other comic books, Wonder Woman had her own backup stories. Unlike backup stories decades later, these stories did not contain other comic book characters, rather they contained historical stories about famous and successful women. The series was called “The Wonder Women of History.”
As opposed to the main focus of the Wonder Woman comic, which was the detailing of the adventures of a fictional character, these comics detailed the real life exploits of women far ahead of their times. In doing so these stories were serving the same role that the Wonder Woman stories had originally been designed to play, that of providing strong role models to young women. Eventually the series of backup stories were discontinued and replaced by one page comics detailing various marriage and wedding ceremonies/rituals. The last Wonder Woman issue to feature a “Wonder Woman of History” was issue 57. The stories were originally written outside of context to the overall comic as stand-alones, but eventually the stories became part of files that Diana Prince kept. The stories tended to highlight key points from the women’s lives, as opposed to focusing on specific episodes.
The stories were also occasionally in Superman's Girlfriend Lois Lane.
The Wonder Women
As Wonder Woman is an American publication the women portrayed have a tendency to be American as well. However, there are a number of foreign born women on the list. All issues listed are from the first volume.
Wonder Woman #1 – Florence Nightingale – Battlefield Nurse in the Crimean War.
Wonder Woman #2 – Clara Barton – Nurse who organized the Red Cross.
Wonder Woman #3 – Edith Cavell – Nurse in the First World War that treated soldiers from both sides of the hostilities.
Wonder Woman #4 – Lillian D Wald – Nurse and founder of American Community nursing.
Wonder Woman #5 – Susan B. Anthony – Civil rights leader with prominent role in the suffrage movement.
Wonder Woman #6 – Madame Chiang Kai Shek – Politician and wife of Chiang Kai Shek.
Wonder Woman #7 – Joan of Arc – Peasant girl that led the French army to numerous victories in the Hundred Years War.
Wonder Woman #10 – Juliette Low – American Youth Leader and founder of the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Wonder Woman #11 – Julia Ward Howe – Abolitionist and author of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.
Wonder Woman #12 – Helen Keller – Political activist and first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.
Wonder Woman #13 – Sojourner Truth – Abolitionist and civil rights activist.
Wonder Woman #14 – Abigail Adams – Second First Lady of the United States and political adviser to her husband, John Adams.
Wonder Woman #15 – Evangeline Booth – General of the Salvation Army.
Wonder Woman #16 – Madame Marie Curie – Physicist and chemist famous for her work on radioactivity. First person to win two Nobel Prizes.
Wonder Woman #17 – Emma Willard – Women’s rights activist who founded the first school for higher education for women.
Wonder Woman #18 – Hannah Adams -- First woman author from the USA.
Wonder Woman #19 – Elizabeth Blackwell – First openly identified woman to graduate from medical school and first female doctor in the USA.
Wonder Woman #20 – Lucretia Mott – Abolitionist and social reformer who was the initiator of women’s political rights.
Wonder Woman #21 – Annie Oakley – American sharpshooter and exhibition shooter.
Wonder Woman #22 – Sarah Bernhardt – Stage and early film actress.
Wonder Woman #23 – Amelia Earhart – American aviatrix and first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.
Wonder Woman #24 – Maria Mitchell – First female professional astronomer in the USA with a comet named after her, which she discovered.
Wonder Woman #25 – Dolly Madison – Fourth First Lady of the USA.
Wonder Woman #26 – Carrie Chapman Catt – Woman’s suffrage leader who campaigned for the nineteenth amendment.
Wonder Woman #27 – Sacajawea – Native American woman that accompanied Lewis and Clark, acting as an interpreter and guide.
Wonder Woman #28 – Elizabeth Barrett Browning – One of the most popular poets of the Victorian era.
Wonder Woman #29 – Dorothea Lynde Dix – American activist on behalf of the indigent insane who helped to create the first generation of American mental asylums.
Wonder Woman #30 – Nellie Bly – American pioneering journalist.
Wonder Woman #31 – Jenny Lind – Swedish opera singer.
Wonder Woman #33 – Annie Jump Cannon – American astronomer whose extensive cataloguing helped lead to the development of contemporary stellar classification.
Wonder Woman #34 – Alice Freeman Palmer – American educator.
Wonder Woman #35 – Fanny Burney - English novelist.
Wonder Woman #37 – Bethenia Owens – First woman physician in the eastern USA.
Wonder Woman #38 – Hannah More – English religious writer and philanthropist.
Wonder Woman #39 – Mumtaz Mahal – Mughal Empress of India and inspiration for the building of the Taj Mahal.
Wonder Woman # 40 – Margrete – Queen of Denmark, Norway and Sweden in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
Wonder Woman #41 – Vinnie Ream Hoxie – American sculptor whose most famous work was a statue Abraham Lincoln in the US Capitol.
Wonder Woman #43 – Myra Colby Bradwell – Publisher, political activist and first woman admitted to the bar as a lawyer in the state of Illinois.
Wonder Woman #45 – Helene Kottauer – Writer in the fifteenth century.
Wonder Woman #46 – Harriet Quimby – Early aviatrix and first woman to fly across the English Channel.
Wonder Woman #47 – Lady Hestor Stanhope – Intrepid traveler in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Wonder Woman #48 – Anne Dacier – French scholar and translator of classics.
Wonder Woman #49 – Emilja Plater – Noblewoman and revolutionary who took part in the November Uprising.
Wonder Woman #50 – Ellen Swallow Richards – Famous chemist who was first female graduate of M.I.T. and first female lecturer there as well.
Wonder Woman #51 – Caroline Herschel – Famous British astronomer and discoverer of several comets.
Wonder Woman #52 – Emma Cons – British social reformer and theater manager.
Wonder Woman #53 – Martha G. Kimball – US Civil War battlefield nurse.
Wonder Woman #55 – Mary Kingsbury Simkhovitch – Founder of Greenwich House and advocate for housing conditions.
Wonder Woman #56 – Sarah Josepha Hale – First woman editor of an American magazine.
Wonder Woman #57 – Marie Elizabeth Zakrzewska – Doctor and civil rights advocate.