“Solving Woman’s Oldest Hygienic Problem in a New Way”: A History of Period Products

Books, Health and History

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

This is part of an intermittent series of blogs featuring advertisements from medical journals. You can find the entire series here.

For the past few weeks, subway-riding New Yorkers have been surrounded by advertisements for absorbent underwear, the latest in a long history of products designed for use during menstruation.

But what did people use before the era of special undies, tampons, pads, and cups? Very little is known about pre-20th century methods, but historians believe (and oral history interviews confirm) that many relied on homemade cloth or paper pads or diapers pinned to belts and strings. Some women reused these items, while others disposed of them after one use.1,2 Other women—even going back to ancient Rome—fashioned their own tampons from absorbent wool, fibers, paper, sponges, and other materials.3

Things began to change in the mid-1800s. Between 1854 and 1921…

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