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The Evolution of Period Products

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By: Saumya Bajaj

It's hard to imagine life without pads or tampons(or your tracking app), but that is how women have had to live for the majority of human history, and sometimes still do. With or without these, women still have periods. So, let's take a look at the evolution of period products.

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❖   Ancient History: Most women either used cloth, animal skin, or plants like papyrus or grass; however, most women were on their own to find ways to stop from leaking on everything. In fact, in Ancient Greece, it is well recorded that a woman threw a used sanitary cloth to get rid of a stalker.

❖   1888: Nurses in France realized that the bandages they used to patch up people were a lot better at absorbing blood than the cotton cloth generally used at that time to stop period blood from leaking onto women’s clothes, so they started using the wood pulp bandages. Soon after, commercial companies starting using that idea and some of the first commercial pads-known as Southhall pads-were available for sale in France. In the US, Lister’s Towels: Sanitary Towels for Ladies from Johnson & Johnson were released.

❖   1920s: By this time, many different sanitary pads were for sale, but women still felt uncomfortable buying them, so Johnson & Johnson changed the name of the Lister’s Towels to Nupak. Even then, they were still much too expensive for most women, but when women could buy them, they would place money in a box so they wouldn’t have to speak to a clerk who was almost certainly male. They would also have to use a sanitary belt, which you would use by tying your pad to the ends of the belt.

❖   1931: Dr. Earl-Haas invented and patented the first modern tampon, Tampax, later selling it to Gertrude Schulte Tenderich.

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❖   1936: Judith Essar-Mittag created the o.b. tampon. It was a tampon without an applicator, making it more environmentally-friendly than a regular tampon. It was marketed as much more effective at guarding against leaks. She later sold her patent to Johnson & Johnson.

❖   1937: Leona Chalmers patented the first usable menstrual cup, though it was not very successful.

❖   1980s: This was around the time when the adhesive strip came to be in use for period “technology.” This quickly became women’s preferred menstrual product. Throughout the years, pads became thinner and more discreet.

❖   2002: The first reusable silicone menstrual cup was created and sold in the UK through Mooncup, eventually spreading to Europe, and then the United States.

Menstrual hygiene has come leaps and bounds since the 20th century,  but the reality is that many women still don’t have access to these products. Because of this, many girls and women can never finish school, making it virtually impossible for them to ever get out of poverty. We still have leaps and bounds to go, so let’s not celebrate just yet.