History of Feminine Hygiene

Learn about how your monthly menstrual products got started.

The History of Tampons and Pads

One thing that all women can relate to each other on throughout history is the inconvenience and general unpleasant business that if their monthly menstrual cycle. While women today have an abundance of choices of feminine hygiene products to deal with it that wasn't always the case. In fact, historically speaking the methods used to handle a woman's monthly visitor ranged from creative to a bit on the blunt and scary side. Not only do our methods for handling periods differ greatly from those of our ancestors but our understanding of periods is quite different as well.   

The history of tampons is likely to make modern day users shudder. In ancient times, it is believed that women made their own tampons out of just about any material they could find that was even remotely absorbent. Egyptian women used papyrus which had been softened for tampons while in Rome they were known to wrap small pieces of wood in lint or cotton. All over the word women were using different kinds of grass, moss and even animal skins as tampons to handle the bleeding.    

Victorian women would use a rag or a piece of folded cloth much like women today use maxi pads. This is where the quite unflattering phrase "on the rag" comes from to refer to a woman being on her period. There are also written records of women on the prairies in the 1800's who would simply bleed onto their clothes. This was most common among the impoverished women of rural areas who more than likely couldn't afford any available means of absorption.    

The first publicly marketed menstrual pads went on sale in 1896. They were manufactured by the Johnson & Johnson company but the product was a flop due to the topic of women's periods being a bit taboo back then. It somehow seemed preferable to women at the time to continue using rags and bits of cotton than to be seen purchasing the sanitary napkins, because this would let everyone know that they were in fact on their periods. The rags and cotton method continued well into the early 1900's. The most common practice was for women to pin the bits of cloth into their underwear and simply wash the cloths after use.    

The 1920's brought the revolution of Kotex sanitary pads which, although much more convenient, had to be worn with a reusable sanitary belt which was probably as uncomfortable as it sounds. In 1931 the first tampon was patented but it didn't come to be released and marketed to the public until sometime in 1936. The first Tampax, featuring the pull string and the tampon applicator not too different from the ones we have today, set the tone for the development of feminine hygiene products which led to a lot of the options women have today.    

While other methods were developed, and marketed, like the menstrual cup and a product that was actually called "period underwear" the most popular methods remained to be the maxi pads and tampons. The move to individually wrap pads in the 1960 by Kotex was well received as women still weren't too keen about letting everyone know when they were menstruating. The adhesive backing was added to pads in the 1970's and that was a big step in normalizing this temporary affliction which was becoming more widely understood as just part of being a woman.    

Currently there are more options for both tampons and pads than I myself can count and they continue to adapt these products to the changing needs and lifestyles of women today. Feminine hygiene free samples are typically distributed to girls around puberty age in the sex ed classes provided at public schools which helps them to understand the normalcy of having a monthly period and it prepares them for the nearing point when they themselves will need to purchase these products. It's a good thing there are so many choices.