July marks the return of Wimbledon and in this post I look at the later career of a great tennis player, Alice Marble (1913 – 1990). Marble was an American tennis player, the number one player between 1936 and 1940. Marble won the singles title of Wimbledon in 1939, 80 years ago this year. She had a remarkable career; in total she won 18 Grand Slams across singles, women’s doubles and mixed doubles competitions. Marble’s talents and versatility stretched to areas outside of sport; after retiring from tennis Marble worked as an associate editor on the Wonder Woman Comics (originally Sensation Comics) and is credited as creating the Wonder Women of History feature which ran alongside the Wonder Woman comic.
“She (Alice Marble) is remembered as one of the greatest women to play the game because of her pioneering style in power tennis.” – Billie Jean King
The Wonder Women of History series celebrated real life heroines from all walks of life – women who were pioneers of their time, profession and the future. It ran from Marble’s creation of the series in 1942 to 1954 and had 93 comics in total. Marble wrote, illustrated and edited a number of the first 20 comics however she allegedly stopped after no longer received writing credit. I came across the series during research of a Visual Culture and Health course at university; after discovering the amazing illustration of the Florence Nightingale story I was eager to do further research of the comic series.
The Florence Nightingale story is the first comic in the series. I was captured by the beautiful handiwork of the design; the colours, style and calligraphy reflects the 19th century context yet immerses a modern generation. The comic is 4 pages in total but manages to provide a large amount of content and detail of Florence’s story – her childhood experiences, her nursing journey and long term impact.
Marble became involved with the Wonder Woman comic when the comic’s publisher sought promotions for the new, revolutionary comic. Notable athletes with a following, a voice and fame were wanted and Marble’s newly retired status allowed time and effort in working with the creative comic. Marble had realised just how much impact comic books had on the youth of the day. In letters she wrote to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and stated that 15 million comic books were bought each month in America and that she believed there was an opportunity to develop the “superhero genre” for educational purposes.
Prior and during the 1940s there was a significant divide and hesitation in mixing education with mediums of entertainment. It believed that the glamour of Hollywood, the sex appeal of characters and the depiction of happy endings, were far detached from reality. Marble, however recognised the positive aspects of the Wonder Woman comic. The first ever comic with a central women character the character represented empowerment of women, a theme which echoes Marble’s position as a number one sportswoman within a male dominated field.
“Wonder Woman marks the first time that daring strength and imagination have been featured as those womanly qualities. This has a lasting effect upon the minds.” – Alice Marble
Mixing themes of empowerment and reality, the Wonder Women of History series entertains, educates and inspires. The first three comics were dedicated to war nurses: Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton and Edith Cavell – women who share associations with comic book superheroes who protect, save, fight in fictional battles. In this sense Marble illustrates the importance and value of nurses and their efforts – real life wonder women.