Without getting too far deep into feminist discourse, we’ll satisfy ourselves by stating that women’s history is widely undocumented. It’s a fact that women getting periods and dealing with them was of less significance than documenting the daily activities of politicians and other prominent figures. while the other part of us is extremely entertained that there’s an actual Museum of Menstruation(!).
For the sake of sating our curiosities, these are the most significant advances in feminine hygiene technology:
Ancient civilizations had a designated hut where their women would go to free bleed for the duration of their periods. Take note, due to a higher rate of childbirth, prolonged breastfeeding, and a healthier diet, women back then only had their periods a couple of times a year. They would basically just hang out and let themselves bleed into the dirt and soil, but away from the rest of the population. Sounds like a slightly gross pajama party.
Enter the ancient Egyptians, who would soften papyrus and use that as makeshift tampons. Around the world, women would put together makeshift pads and tampons out of wood, wool, dirt and whatever they had access to, to absorb their flows.
Enter the 20th century, when women began to use reusable pads fashioned out of cloth and cotton. The term “on the rag” was coined around this time, to indicate the time of the month when a woman was on her period.
The first menstruation aprons hit the market before WWI, intended to be worn under skirts as a means to prevent staining. They were available by mail order. Before the birth of modern sanitary pads, homemade reusable “rags” were attached to belts to absorb blood.
Catamenial (Greek for “menses”) sacks are basically little funnel-like things, much like douches, that were to be inserted into or suspended around your ladyparts to collect your menses. We’re going to opt to use our imagination as to how the collected blood was disposed of.
During the first World War, nurses in France discovered that the cellulose bandages they were using on injured soldiers were far more absorbent than the cotton they were using for their monthly visitor. Talk about enterprising.
While disposable sanitary pads entered the commercial market around the 1920s, it wasn’t until later that napkins as we know them came to be. Initially, they couldn’t be worn without a menstrual belt, but around 1969 someone came up with the brilliant idea to manufacture them with adhesive strips. Nowadays every lowly napkin is made with things like Tourmaline and Nano Silver to aid in killing bacteria, eliminating odors, and maintaining ph balance.
Tampons aren’t a 21st century invention. As mentioned, women way back have been coming up with ways to deal with bloodflow for centuries. It was in 1939 that Dr. Earle Haas came up with a tampon design that came with an applicator—the same design that’s used to this day and enables women to go about their daily routine with little to no hassle. On behalf of women (and men) everywhere, we salute you, Dr. Haas.
Thank heavens we never had to use the rag method, right? Please post your feels and sighs of relief in the comments.