Monday, 21 August 2017

Victorian Feminine Hygiene

                                                                      Sanitary Aprons

Until disposable sanitary pads were created, cloth or reusable pads were widely used to collect menstrual blood. Women often used a variety of home-made menstrual pads which they crafted from various fabrics, or other absorbent materials, to collect menstrual blood.

Public facilities often had incinerators where women could burn pads when away from home and households kept buckets full of cold water and bicarbonate of soda (still a great way to get rid of blood stains) where pads could be boil washed after a long soak.

Disposable menstrual pads grew from a Ben Franklin invention created to help stop wounded soldiers from bleeding, but appear to have been first commercially available from around 1888 with the Southball’s pad. The first commercially available American disposable napkins were Lister’s Towels created by Johnson & Johnson in 1888**. Disposable pads had their start with nurses using their wood pulp bandages to catch their menstrual flow, creating a pad that was made from easily obtainable materials and inexpensive enough to throw away after use. Kotex’s first advertisement for products made with this wood pulp (Cellucotton) appeared in 1888. Several of the first disposable pad manufacturers were also manufacturers of bandages, which could give an indication of what these products were like. [Wikipedia]

                     Lister's Towels ad. Arizona Republic. Phoenix AZ. 7 Jun 1906
The pads ended up being just too cutting edge for the times, and the product was quickly considered a failure.

 Menstrual cups weren’t far behind. The first was invented just after turn of the century.

 Advertisements in the Victorian era were intentionally vague as taboos prevented open discussion of feminine hygiene, birth control, or menses.

                  Ladie’s Doily Belt. Sanitary Napkins. Sears Roebuck and Co. 1898 Catalog no. 107
No. D2261 Ladie’s Doily Belt [sic]. Made of Soft Sateen and Silk with Rubberband [sic]. An almost necessary article for ladies during their menstrual period for the convenience of attaching the napkin or pad. It is easily adjusted, and will not interfere with other Garments. Each, with two cotton shields or pads…40c.

Item No. 10932: Ladies’ Suspenders for supporting skirt 
Per paid $0.10. Note: such suspenders were worn to distribute the weight of the lady’s skirt to her shoulders as well as helping to keep the skirt up where it belongs about her waist. The suspenders were worn beneath the blouse, unlike men’s suspenders which were worn atop the shirt and beneath the waistcoat/vest.


Women had long used syringes (at least by the 17th century) for douching. Both Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Montgomery, Ward & Co. catalogs sold various style syringes for feminine hygiene. According to the advertisements, the devices were used for post-coital cleanliness and to (with additives such as alum, baking soda, or vinegar) reduce the risk of pregnancy. Douches were apparently employed during menses as well as post-partum (which may have contributed to “childbed fever”, a.k.a. peritonitis following childbirth). Advertisements were intentionally vague as a newspaper reporter had been arrested in 1882 for obscenity.


               Abdominal and Uterine Supporter. 1898 Sears Roebuck and Co. Catalog no. 107
Similar products were advertised in Sears, Roebuck & co. catalog of 1897 and Montgomery, Ward & co. of 1895. Uterine Prolapse must’ve been relatively common and without the surgical intervention of today, devices such as this kept bits tucked inside.


Use of Tampons from The Diseases of Woman, their causes and cure familiarly explained: with practical hints for their prevention, and for the preservation of female health, published in 1847

“In those severe cases, when the gush of blood is almost instantaneous, and so great as to endanger life in a very short time, we may employ, temporarily, mechanical means to prevent it. The best of which, and the most readily prepared, is called the tampon or plug. It may be made of linen rag, cotton, or sponge, in the form of a ball, and introduced into the vagina like a pessary, It should be large enough to completely fill up the passage, but must not be introduced more than about two inches, for fear of irritating and inflaming the mouth of the womb, which is then very sensitive.

A very good way to make the plug is, to cut out round pieces of soft linen cloth, then pass a stout thread through the middle of each and press them close together, till the mass is au inch thick. The string is convenient for pulling it out again, and should always be attached to every one. A small bag filled with tan, or ashes, or sawdust soaked in alum water, is also very excellent. These plugs should not be withdrawn in a hurry, unless severe symptoms supervene, and when they are removed, care must be taken not to disturb or irritate the parts. If the danger be imminent, and there be not time, or means to prepare a tampon, the lips and vulva should be firmly pressed together with the hand, till other means can be procured.”

Below are  images of tampons from Minor Surgical Gynecology: a Manual of Uterine Diagnosis and the Lesser Technicalities of Gynecological Practice: For the Use of the Advanced Student and General Practitioner, by Paul Fortunatus Mundém, published 1880. These tampons are for medical use.


Source: Through the ages: A Brief history of your period
Use of Tampons from The Diseases of Woman, their causes and cure familiarly explained: with practical hints for their prevention, and for the preservation of female health


Amy Douglas said...

Whoa! This was so interesting and I am glad I stumbled upon this. I had no idea the history behind this! And, it makes sense that before something was officially invented, women were trying all sorts of things to contain the flow. Definitely simpler times these days! :)

C.A.Asbrey said...

Thanks, Amy. This is the stuff they never taught in schools, yet it's so interesting because everyone was touched by these mundane things.

Leigh-Ann Otto said...

I am so glad that we have come such a long way and very, very grateful that I don't need to use some of those contraptions. It's fascinating though, isn't it?

C.A.Asbrey said...

I find it fascinating. I'm glad to find others who do, Amy.

Nailil Ivaldi said...

This is really interesting. I didn't know anything about this topic before.

C.A.Asbrey said...

Thank you, Nalil. I love it when people find the things I am interested in fascinating too.

Emmi said...

I'm always so interested in women's history, especially the taboos surrounding it. Thanks for sharing!

C.A.Asbrey said...

Thanks, Emmi. I love the stuff they never teach at school.

Shannon C said...

I'm so glad I was not born during this era. Thanks for the history lesson, lol..

Crystal Dayton said...

Very interesting I don't know much about this interesting read.

C.A.Asbrey said...

Thank you, Shannon and Crystal. I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Kristal Xavier said...

I thought I had a idea about what happened in this era but I really learned a lot from them post.