Marjorie May, three booklets, 1935 main page
See a Kotex ad advertising this booklet.
See Kotex items: First ad (1921;
scroll to bottom of page) - ad 1928 (Sears and Roebuck
catalog) - Lee Miller ads (first real person
in a menstrual hygiene ad, 1928) - Marjorie May's
Twelfth Birthday (booklet for girls, 1928, Australian edition; there
are many links here to Kotex items) - Preparing
for Womanhood (1920s, booklet for girls; Australian edition) - 1920s
booklet in Spanish showing disposal method
- box from about 1969 -
"Are you in the know?" ads
(Kotex) (1949)(1953)(1964)(booklet, 1956) -
See more ads on the Ads for Teenagers main page
DIRECTORY of all topics (See also the
SEARCH ENGINE, bottom
THE MUSEUM OF MENSTRUATION AND WOMEN'S HEALTH
Growing Up and Liking It
A Primer of Period Pedagogy, 1868 -
by Lynn Peril
ABOVE: A menstruation education booklet by Kotex from Australia, probably
from the 1920s, shown here by the kind permission
of the Curator of Health and Medicine at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney,
Australia. (Please direct any further enquiries to Megan Hicks at
email@example.com) Click to see more of the booklet.
A decade later, Mary McGee Williams and Irene Kane took up this line
of argument with a vengeance in On Becoming a Woman (New York: Dell
Publishing, 1958; some thrift stores for not very much money). Employing
the just-between-us-girls technique we've already observed, the authors
ask, "So what's so joyful? Well, let's stop and think what menstruation
. . . means." Which sounds oh-so-cozy, except that what it means, according
to Williams and Kane, "is that for perhaps the first time in your active,
tomboy life, you must accept that you are a girl":
For most girls, this acceptance is an exciting, who-wouldn't-want-to-be
kind of thing, something you've looked forward to since you saw your mother
nursing a baby brother, or dreamed about a kitchen of your own, or imagined
yourself a well-loved wife . . . .
The girls who resent menstruation, who talk about "the curse"
and the bother of "being sick," who get all mixed up about this
time in their lives, are those who may have emotional doubts about
being a woman . . . .Here's a time for some real soul-searching, if you
find yourself deeply disturbed about being "stuck with" the role
of a woman. It's a time for re-evaluating the role of women in the world.
Do not, for an instant, imagine this was a feminist re-evaluation of
When you know the deep, true love a woman feels for a man, when you
experience the tremendous joy of comforting, sustaining and understanding
a man you love, when you know the happiness of childbirth - you will be
acting the role you were created for. To know this fulfillment, you must
want it, learn about it and be ready for it. The teen years are the perfect
time for learning to be a woman . . . for turning from dolls and and sandlot
ball games to the feminine skills of cooking and sewing and prettying yourself
(for this too is a feminine art). It's the time to practice the feminine
role of the woman pursued by a man - by your first dating experience, by
practicing your newly discovered womanliness on boys your own age.
Now, who could possibly feel "disturbed" about that, unless
it was one of those female inverts discussed in an earlier chapter ("Teen
Age Crush") or some kind of heathen communist. Few materials were as
explicit as On Becoming A Woman in delineating the adult sex roles
that girls would be expected to to fill once they started menstruating.
But most hinted that the menarche was the great demarcation between girlhood
freedoms and the restrictions placed upon adult women.
Like the other manufacturers of feminine hygiene products, Tampax viewed
the classroom as an incubator for consumers, and in 1958 produced a teacher's
guide on menstruation and "menstrual health" called From Fact
to Fiction ($2.50 at The Magazine). Allegedly "written in response
to countless requests from teachers," From Fact to Fiction describes
itself as "a workable teaching guide for all who are helping girls
grow into healthy womanhood." To this end, FFF focused on "fiction"
(menstrual "superstitions and taboos" of "Primitive people")
versus "scientific facts" (particularly the development of Tampax-brand
tampons, started in 1936, as the apex of sanitary protection). FFF
(and one would assume, the students' booklet, It's Natural, It's Normal)
broke little new ground, stressing that menstruation's "purpose is
to prepare the body for the biological function of all women - reproduction,"
and the need for a girl to accept "herself as a growing woman."
It did, however, include something that few other guides dared to - a drawing
of the external female genitalia that showed the location of the clitoris.
(Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of It's Natural, It's Normal
to see if the little troublemaker was pointed out to students!) Nevertheless,
it was soon back to the same-old-same-old in the section entitled "typical
questions your students may ask," a disproportionate number of which
concerned tampon usage.
Similar sales tactics were employed in the 1966-67 edition of Modess's
Growing Up and Liking It booklet. "You'll feel more confident
if you know you can trust your sanitary napkin," it told readers, "see
pages 20 and 21 for more information on choosing the right sanitary protection
for you." These pages - surprise! - advertised Modess's product line,
including a "Teen-Age" size which purported to be "narrower-shaped
to fit younger figures." All totaled, GUALI devoted four full
pages to advertising Modess products and provided coupons for a "Sanitary
Napkin Purse Kit" or more copies of the booklet itself.
Along with its shameless promotion of Modess products, GUALI
displayed characteristics common to most pamphlets produced by manufacturers
of feminine hygiene products during the 60s. "This is what you've been
waiting for," it cooed as it assured readers that "someday when
you fall in love and marry, you will want to have children." Menstruation
was "part of being female . . .part of growing up . . . part of the
wonderful process of changing from a child into a woman." And, in a
fit of perkiness probably not matched before or since in menstruation education
materials, it boldly declared just inside the front cover that "the
fun is just beginning!" - leading me to doubt that the author ever
menstruated. Photos depicted teenage girls dancing, shopping, playing ping-pong,
hanging out with other smiling teens at the beach. Everyone fairly glowed
with happiness imparted by proper menstrual education. Additional illustrations
showed cross-sectional views of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes,
and represented the ova's monthly meanderings. Good grooming and proper
diet were discussed, and it showed a series of exercises for "shaping
up and staying that way," as well as to provide relief from cramps
(though the text constantly minimizes both their severity and occurrence).
Finally, GUALI, like most booklets, included a calendar where girls
could plot their periods.
The women's liberation movement of the late 60s left little, if any,
immediate mark on menstrual education pamphlets. After 1970, GUALI
may have no longer suggested that the fun was just beginning, but nevertheless
proclaimed that "it's wonderful being a girl . . . And even more wonderful
to become a woman." The booklet also advertised Modess's "award-winning
film, 'It's wonderful Being a Girl'," in which Libby and Jean, two
close friends, help each other to understand about growing up." Otherwise,
most of the earlier text was retained, although Modess bowed to changing
mores by including a black girl on the cover, and tried to get hip with
a photo of a white girl playing twister.
Kotex, on the other hand, was quick to incorporate new ideas and lingo
into Very Personally Yours. While the 1973 edition (by the way, this
was probably the the same edition of VPY that I got at school and
later threw away in a fit of shame) is pretty much interchangeable with
GUALI, the products advertised in the booklet include Kotex's nod
to the women's movement - New Freedom, the "revolutionary self-attaching
napkin." If that wasn't enough to seal the company's "with it"
status, girls could order a "tampon introductory kit" that came
with a booklet called Tell It Like It Is.
The "revolutionary" nature of the New Freedom napkin aside,
the sanitary products industry was slow to come to grips with changes in
social attitude brought about by the women's movement. They were hastened
along by books like Period (San Francisco: Volcano Press, revised
edition, 1981; Community Thrift, $1.00). Written by a health educator and
a clinical psychologist, Period presented menstrual information in
a radically different way from its predecessors. Instead of gushing about
the wonderfulness of womanhood, impending marriage and motherhood, Period
explained adolescent bodily changes in a down-to-earth manner, neither talking
down to its audience nor assuming an artificial intimacy. On the other hand,
Period also included life-size diagrams of girl- and woman-size uteruses,
which the text suggested readers cut out and "hold . . . up to your
stomach . . . [to] get a better idea of how big your uterus is." (You
know, I just can't help thinking that if a young Ed Gein only had access
to Period's cut-outs, his victims might be alive today.)
Period was so influential that Kotex actually listed it as "Recommended
Further Reading for Parents and Daughters" in Becoming Aware
- their menstrual educational booklet for the 1990s. At first glance, the
1992 edition of Becoming Aware bears little resemblance to Very
Personally Yours. BA's narrator is 12-year-old Sarah, who's bummed
out because she hasn't gotten her period yet. Then her best friend, the
motherless Roxy, gets hers. This leads to a wacky sit-comish situation when
Sarah's mom, Mrs. Schuler, catches Roxy and Sarah rummaging through her
"off-limits closet shelf." Of course, everything ends happily
with hugs and Kotex-brand panty-liners for everyone. Nevertheless, if you
overlook the TV movie quality of the writing, Becoming Aware offers
less advertising and more information than Kotex's earlier pamphlets. In
fact, if I had read Period and Becoming Aware, I would have
been better prepared - intellectually, at least - to face my own menarche.
I wonder how many young women anticipate menstruation the way the girls
in these books and pamphlets do - with barely concealed enthusiasm? As for
myself, I related to a character in The Long Secret, Louise Fitzhugh's
sequel to Harriet the Spy. Beth Ellen wakes up one day feeling "extremely
odd." She goes to the summerhouse and sits alone in shameful silence.
"It was all a mistake," she thinks. "She would get up, go
inside, and know it was all a dream." Later, she and her friends decide
the only advantage menstruation might offer is the possibility of skipping
gym. I doubt that the shame Beth Ellen felt about her changing body would
have been assuaged by Very Personally Yours 's saccharin assurances.
I know mine wasn't. END (Click
for Part 1 and Part 2)
Mystery Date costs
$1.50 each for the five so far. Order from
Lynn Peril, P.O. Box 641592, San Francisco,
and this is the Mystery
Date Web site.