Menstrual cycles through the ages: A brief history of your period

By all accounts, as modern women, we have it pretty good when it comes to our
periods. In fact, we have it so good that you might find it hard to believe just how far
we’ve come even from 1980!

Medical, product and cultural progress have all made dealing with our period
normal, safe and socially acceptable for those of us in the 21 st century. But have you
ever wondered about how women dealt with their period before Tampax hit the
shelves?

The history of the period, along with the contraptions and methods used to control
it, dates back as far as women do.

Ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans
Egyption, women used softened papyrus for tampons. Meanwhile, across the
Mediterranean, Greeks rigged their tampons out of lint wrapped around small
pieces of wood. Their Roman neighbors wore pads and tampons made of soft wool.

Did you know?

Women have used everything from paper, moss, wool, animal skins and even grass to absorb menstrual flow.

Biblical Times
Jewish cultures during the B.C. era required women to be physically separated from
men for the duration of their bleeding. Not only were women considered ritually
impure, but anything a menstruating woman sat or rested on was also considered
impure. And forget about passing the salt at dinner. A woman on her period couldn’t
even hand an object to her husband without that object needing to be re-blessed by
a rabbi!

Europe in the 1800s
Fast forward to Germany and England in the 1800s. Some women of the time wore
homemade pads but many didn’t. In fact, it was the custom for rural women and
women of lower classes to just bleed into their clothing!

British Medical Journal published a statement saying that menstruating women were
medically unable to successfully pickle meat. Female factory workers in France at
the same time were asked not to work in sugar refineries during their periods for
fear they would spoil the food.

Did you know?

The first commercial sanitary pads were produced by Johnson & Johnson? The pads
ended up being just too cutting edge for the times, and the product was quickly
considered a failure.

America in the 1900s
American women made homemade pads out of the same absorbent cotton material
used for baby diapers. Women pinned these pads to their underwear or homemade
muslin belts. Sanitary aprons and bloomers became available by mail order.

Appearance of Disposable Pads and Kotex
In World War I, French nurses realized that the cellulose bandages they used
on wounded soldiers absorbed blood better than plain cotton, and they started
using the bandages during their periods. To the relief of millions of women, Kotex
disposable pads made their first appearance on store shelves.

Did you know?

Over the centuries receptacles to absorb flow have been invented out of springs and
wire, using buttons, flaps, elastic straps, valves and girdles. Thankfully, not many
made it to market!

Appearance of Marketable Tampons and Tampax
In 1933, the tampon patent was purchased for $32,000 and Tampax was born. The
first Tampax tampons were handmade in a house, using a sewing machine and a
compression machine.

Did you know?

Stayfree Mini Pads were the first sanitary pads with adhesive strips, and these pads hit
the market in 1969. They brought an end to belts clips, and safety pins.

First Mention in a Fictional Storyline
In 1970 Judy Blume published Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. It was the first
published book to mention first menstruation in a fictional storyline.

Tampons Lose Some Popularity
Tampons were linked to the deadly Toxic Shock Syndrome in 1980. The freedom
and convenience of the tampon was something that women didn’t want to part with
and their popularity, in spite of the risk, has continued to grow.

Did you know?

The first use of the word “period” in a commercial was in 1985?


A Bit More Variety and Color
Today you can find colorful plastic tampon applicators and pads for every possible
flow and underwear style, but the basic design has remained unchanged for the
last 43 years. Although, we can’t help but wonder what the next period-driven
innovation will be.

As you can see, we’ve made huge strides as women. And, while we’re still not quite
completely comfortable openly talking about our periods, we’re a good deal more
comfortable physically than we have been in the past.

However, even though things are better, your menstrual cycle can still be a real
pain—especially if you suffer from heavy bleeding (link to new heavy bleeding
post). So make sure you talk to your doctor (link to Find a doc) about what’s going
on with your period—or give us a call and talk to a registered nurse for free at (317)
338-4HER.

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