See menstrual artifacts from ancient Peru
(bowl as bleeding vulva); Almora,
Uttar Pradesh state, India; Rajasthan
state, India; 19th-century
Norway; Italy; and instructions
for making Japanese and
German washable pads
from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
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
Dress, Gender and the Menstrual Culture of Ancient Greece
|Artemis as Mistress of Animals, about 680 BCE,
on a vase from Boetia, an area above Athens, Greece. The swastikas
grab your attention, don't they? No, Artemis wasn't a Nazi. For most of
its many thousand year history the swastika had a positive meaning, including
undoubtedly on the vase above; it also appears in ancient Chinese. "The
word 'swastika' comes from the Sanskrit svastika - 'su' meaning 'good,'
'asti' meaning 'to be,' and 'ka' as a suffix," writes one source.
The picture of the vase come from http://web.uvic.ca/grs/bowman/myth/gods/artemis_i.html
Following the fashions of the female menstrual flow and its
culture throughout time is a difficult task as its importance, artifacts
and documentation were until relatively recently scarcely interpreted or
acknowledged. This is especially true of some of the oldest civilizations
we can trace, that of the Egyptians, Romans and ancient Greeks. Within the
last thirty years women's history, previously discounted or ignored, has
sparked scholarly interest especially in the area of ancient Greek women's
social and private lives. This information is usually obtained by analyzing
the objects of the civilization that remain, mainly art works, texts and
artifacts. By utilizing all of these sources this paper focuses on the dress
and gender roles associated with ancient Greek women's menstrual culture
through the female's various life stages: the cult of Artemis, menarche,
the "illness of maidens," death, marriage, defloration, conception,
giving birth and menopause. The aspects of dress surrounding menstrual culture
have been chiefly understudied in ancient Greece, as well as today, yet
there is much to be learned by examining and analyzing them. In doing so
it is important to identify what constitutes the unique dress of menstruation,
list the sources and texts examined, compare and contrast our modern menstrual
dress and culture and the way it is being preserved for future generations
using the Museum of Menstruation as an example and tie our traditions to
those of ancient Greece in order to think both broadly and critically about
[NB: I unfortunately could not include most of the illustrations
in the paper because of reproductive quality and/or copyright concerns.
I hope to illustrate Pence-Brown's points in the paper before the year is
out, after I retire; I'm an illustrator.]
Definition of Dress
According to an article titled "Dress and Identity,"
dress theory scholars Roach-Higgins and Eicher define the dress of an individual
as: An assemblage of modifications of the body and/or supplements to the
body. Dress, so defined, includes a long list of possible direct modifications
of the body such as coiffed hair, colored skin, pierced ears, and scented
breath, as well as an equally long list of garments, jewelry, accessories,
and other categories of items added to the body as supplements.(Footnote 1)
Sebesta, another scholar of Greek women, writes: Textiles,
in fact, marked many stages in a woman's life and these stages all
focused on a woman's reproductive status. Mothers dedicated richly woven
textiles to Artemis after their daughters had successfully experienced menarche
and to birth goddesses after a successful childbirth. Family members dedicated
beautifully woven dresses to Iphigeneia at Brauron on behalf of women who
died in childbirth.(2)
Occasionally utilizing the more traditional aspects of dress
including everyday garments, costumes and jewelry, the menstrual culture
of Greece primarily lends itself towards more non-traditional yet valuable
aspects of appearance such as nudity, beliefs about the body, suppositories,
adhering items to the body, ingesting items into the body and hand-held
objects, sometimes in the form of dedications to the goddess Artemis.(3)
In an earlier article on dress Eicher and Roach-Higgins address these unusual
types of dress as problems with classification and terminology and therefore
broaden the definition: We also take the position that the direct modifications
of the body as well as the supplements added to it must be considered types
of dress because they are equally effective means of human communication,
and because similar meanings can be conveyed by some property, or combinations
of properties, of either modifications or supplements.(4)
Sources and Texts
Although the artifacts depicting dress and the menstrual culture
of ancient Greece are scant, texts offer the greatest insight. Ancient written
sources include plays from the period and inscriptions on artifacts but
mainly consist of medical texts written by men. A few of the well known,
well preserved and well documented include Diseases of Women, History
of Animals, Gynecology and On the Natural Faculties. As
a portion of the Hippocratic corpus, Diseases of Women focuses on
female menstruation and is part of a group of medical writings attributed
to the legendary father of Greek medicine, Hippocrates, but was later discovered
to be composite writings of male physicians studying his medical theories
in the fifth century BCE.(5) Aristotle wrote the History of Animals in
the fourth century BCE, describing the bodily layout and functions of all
animals and thus connecting humans.6 Soranus, a Roman physician in the first
and second centuries CE, wrote an entire treatise on female medical conditions
titled Gynecology which greatly concerned itself with the role of
the midwife in ancient culture.(7) Galen, a physician and philosopher, lived
and wrote On the Natural Faculties, a medical text occasionally discussing
menses, during the second century CE.(8) Current books and journal articles,
written mostly by female scholars since the 1970s, provide valuable interpretations
of menstrual dress in these ancient medical texts and often decipher related
images such as vase paintings, statuary, architectural remains, textiles
and other artifacts, like mirrors. [Bibliography.
More bibliography on this MUM site.]
In an article regarding the use of male-composed medical texts
as a source for ancient Greek women's history, King warns of the limitations
as well as cites the positive aspects of them by asking questions such as,
"Is it possible to recover women's ideas and experiences from male-authored
texts, and if so, how should we go about doing this?"(9) It is probable
that medical texts are sources of realistic practices and that these authors
acted as reporters, recording remedies, stories and feelings passed on between
generations and told to these writers by female patients, hetairai,
or Greek female sex workers, and midwives. Menstrual medical writings are
more likely to represent the true voices of women as men did not experience
menstruation nor were they very often involved in the physicality of it
as physicians, therefore, the written accounts were probably obtained through
women.(10) These limitations and values can also be applied when looking
at artwork and artifacts as they often represent views filtered through
the artist's eye which was most often that of a man.
Stages of Modern Menstrual Dress
Now that dress has been defined and the sources identified
it is important to classify the menstrual dress and culture of the modern
American female first as an interesting tool to recognize similarities,
differences and biases to that of ancient Greek menstruation. Today girls
can "get their period," the most popular modern term for menses,
as young as eleven years old and soon develop a monthly pattern of doing
so. There are no significant rituals leading up to this except perhaps the
mandatory short film introducing females to menstruation in the fourth grade.
Exteriorly no noteworthy changes in dress accompany this physical change
except perhaps the carrying of a purse or a trendy case for the first time
in order to conceal the transportation of maxi pads or tampons. Pads adhere
to the underpants and tampons are inserted into the vagina by hand. The
shaving of body hair and the wearing of nylons, makeup or a bra may correspond
in time with the beginning of menses but not necessarily as a result.
Menstrual discomfort is most often alleviated with over-the-counter
medication and new technology provides items like the Playtex Heat Therapy
Heat Patch, which sticks to the abdomen or lower back, can be worn under
the clothes for cramp relief. Over-the-counter douches, creams or sprays
cure other minor vaginal infections and irritations.
The losing of one's virginity, often accompanied by the breaking
of the hymen, usually occurs anytime after menarche begins in the teenage
years well before marriage. Intercourse happens at the girl's will without
the knowledge or consent of her parents or friends. Again the public appearance
of the female may not drastically change, however, sexual activity often
constitutes body modifications such as the use of contraceptive methods
like the pill, the patch, condoms or a sponge. The wearing of sexier, more
adult undergarments is also seen usually in the form of matching bras and
panties made of lace, satin or leather in order to entice a sexual partner.
The application of sex toys or aids such as lubricants, vibrators, edible
underwear or handcuffs are used for similar reasons. All of these may continue
throughout the female's adult life. As a result of early defloration marriage
comes and goes without significant ritual or change in dress regarding intercourse.
Conception often occurs after marriage and usually in the
woman's twenties or thirties. If conception is not desired abortions are
easily and safely obtained via medical personnel. If a baby is desired,
books, classes, the Internet and the doctor or midwife are the main sources
consulted and it is the woman's partner, often her husband, who is the most
involved and supportive. A shift in the alterations of dress can be seen
here, as ingestion, applications or insertions are virtually nonexistent
in pregnancy, however, an entire new wardrobe is often purchased and worn
for the nine-month period. This includes larger garments, usually of similar
female fashions as their non-pregnant counterparts, nursing bras and pregnancy
belts. The ritual of throwing the expectant mother a baby shower marks another
aspect of dress involved in this life stage, however, this time aiding in
the construction of the unborn baby's gender via its clothing and accessories.
Pregnancy is also often the only time menstruation ceases for a lengthy
Menstruation usually resumes to normal between pregnancies
and continues until menopause, the conclusion of a woman's reproductive
life resulting in the complete eradication of the menses, is reached in
a woman's forties or fifties. This change constitutes little alteration
in dress except perhaps the application, ingestion or insertion of medication.
These modern menstrual stages of dress provide intriguing
tools for contrast and comparison to keep in mind when reading about those
of ancient Greek women. Of equal importance, however, is the recognition
and avoidance of applying "ethnocentric, value-charged terms such as
mutilation, deformation, decoration, ornament and adornment" when designating
types of historical dress, reminds Eicher and Roach-Higgins.(11) By using
this type of terminology we are "usually applying their [our] own personally
and culturally derived standards to distinguish the good from the bad, the
right from the wrong, and the ugly from the beautiful, and thus inevitably
reveal more about themselves [ourselves] than about what they [we] are describing."(12)
The Cult of Artemis
The goddess Artemis, daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo,
took on many names and identities in the Greek world perhaps most famously
as the huntress. Artemis also played a major role in female life cycles,
especially those that involved bloodshed. The myth of how Artemis obtained
this identity proclaims that one day some children tied a rope around a
small statue of her and playfully claimed to be strangling it. This was
considered sacrilegious and the elders stoned the children to death. The
women of the city were then struck with a disease which left their babies
stillborn. The citizens consulted the priestess of Apollo who declared the
children should be buried and receive annual sacrifices because they had
been wrongly killed.
From then on Artemis' role as a protector of children, particularly
girls, and their various life stages was reflected. Artemis was designated
an eternal youth by her father Zeus, meaning that she never reached menarche.
This is an ideal example of the ironic duality of the Greeks as she who
cannot bleed presides over the bloodshed of others, she who can never give
birth chooses to prevent birth in others or provide a successful birth.(13)
In most artistic representations of her Artemis is dressed
as the huntress indicated by the presence of a bow or arrow in her hand
and the wearing of a shorter chitoniskos, or draped women's garment
falling just above the knees, common for participation in active sports
such as hunting as well as the dress of young girls.(14) An example of Artemis
dressed as the goddess of female stages is represented with Aphrodite and
Eros on the east frieze of the Parthenon. She is linking arms with Aphrodite
signaling the transformation of maidenhood to motherhood as well as the
relationship of chastity and sexuality between the two goddesses. Wearing
a clinging, pleated chiton, or draped garment, gathered into a protective
covering at her genitals, Artemis' right hand holds up one shoulder of the
garment as it slips off the other possibly signifying her potential although
The cult of Artemis and its ritual of Arkteia, or Bear Festival,
usually held at the sanctuary at Brauron, is perhaps the best documented
regarding her role in the lives of pre-pubescent girls and dress. The legend
of the festival relates to the story of a young girl who was scratched by
a bear and who, aided by her brothers, shot it and therefore offended Artemis.
As a result Artemis demanded retribution that all the girls
in the land must serve her before marriage by dressing as a bear and performing
ritual acts at her shrine. All references to this ritual, which was probably
meant to represent the transformation of wild, animalistic children into
the "mother bear" figure, including texts, vase paintings and
Aristophanes' Lysistrata, suggest the girls, called parthenoi,
were of varying ages and stages of development from seven to fifteen but
who had not reached menarche.(16) Many small, black-figure krater vases
have been found at Artemis' shrine and depict these girls in some sort of
procession, dancing or racing and often holding twigs or torches at an altar.
They are either naked, wearing short yellow-brown colored chitoniskos
perhaps dyed with saffron, a popular herb for dying cloth and relieving
menstrual symptoms, or suits made from the skins of bears.(17) Some have
hair to their shoulders and others have it cut very short. Inventory lists
found in Athens regarding this sanctuary suggest that perhaps the yellowish
chitoniskos worn by the girls at this coming-of-age ceremony were
afterwards dedicated to Artemis. There is some evidence they also dedicated
small, inscribed votive statues of females depicting either Artemis or the
young girl herself as well as elaborate textiles, both hoping to aid in
the coming menstrual flow and subsequent marriage.(18)
|Example of zone, or girdle, tied around waist. Courtesy of http://www.stoa.org/diotima/ |
Diotima: Materials for the Study of Women and Gender in the Ancient World.
Ancient Greek Female Costume: Illustrated by One Hundred and Twelve Plates
Selected, 1882, J. Moyr Smith.
According to all of the medical texts menarche usually began
in the girl's fourteenth year, continued to appear usually monthly, hence
the Greek term "menses," and indicated that she was prepared for
marriage and physically capable of pregnancy. Most of the information regarding
the beginning of menstruation and its associated dress practices comes from
these medical texts, which more heavily describe the physicality of menses.
Classical Greek physicians did not dissect human bodies and of course did
not menstruate themselves, however, menstrual blood although originating
internally becomes external and therefore accessible to observation and
study.(19) Besides this fact these male physicians claimed their findings,
including those regarding dress, were often provided by female patients
Having officially left childhood behind, menstruating females,
called gynaikes, although not yet women had entered a new stage in
their adult lives constituting various changes in dress. Externally and
most obviously the chitoniskos was abandoned in favor of the longer,
more modest chiton or peplos. These traditional items of clothing
have been found placed in open boxes or used to clothe the statues in the
shrines of Artemis. Richly embroidered fabrics have also been found in the
shrines probably dedicated to Artemis by the appreciative mother of the
menstruating girl.(21) This also appears to be the time when the wearing
of the girdle, or zone, began, as younger girls are usually ungirded
in artistic representations.(22) The girdle's basic structure resembled
a belt tied externally around the waist constructed from a narrow braided
band, metal or elaborately embroidered fabric (see the top illustration).
Like all textiles they were probably created by women and may have been
decorated with symbols of fertility and sexuality although it is possible
that the presence of the girdle itself without these embroidered or applied
symbols represented the same.(23) Another obvious item of dress was the
wearing of an amulet charm of herbs or roots around the neck to alleviate
menstrual problems or pains. The medical texts often refer to them as folk
medicine or magic in a derogatory or sympathetic way, as we see here in
a quote from Science, Folklore and Ideology attributed to Soranus:
Some people say that some things are effective by antipathy,
such as the magnet and the Assian stone and hare's rennet and certain other
amulets to which we on our own part pay no attention. Yet one should not
forbid their use; for even if the amulet has no direct effect, still through
hope it will possibly make the patient more cheerful.(24)
Amulets continued to be worn throughout the female's life
and depending on the associated herbs were used as contraceptives, abortifacients,
good luck or birthing devices.(25)
Although the medical texts indicate some uses of menstrual
blood in medicinal applications, offerings, agricultural fertilization and
magical potions there is not reason to believe that menstruating women always
walked around without some form of containment. There is little physical,
artistic or written evidence of women wearing undergarments for any reason
except for athletic events; however, there are a few stories regarding the
use of menstrual containment in the form of linen rags, but how they were
attached to the body is unknown. They were called phulakia, meaning
"protection against" in Greek, and we hear of them in the story
of Hypatia who chose not to marry and, when one of her students fell in
love with her, threw a used menstrual cloth in his face.(26) On inventory
lists from various sanctuary dedications to Artemis "rags" are
listed, yet many scholars disagree that these were menstrual rags but tattered
clothing instead.(27) There is also some speculation that wool was used
as a pessary, or vaginal insertion, in order to contain menstrual blood,
stemming from the fact that the medical texts cite wool fuses with herbs
as a medicinal insertion.(28) [The ancient Egyptians seem to have done the
same thing; see some hieroglyphics].
The "Illness of Maidens" and Death
It may seem peculiar to place a section on death between menarche
and marriage, however, it was often around this stage chronologically that
suicide among young women in ancient Greece was prominent. Often attributed
to the "Illness of Maidens," medical texts mention a type of disease
that struck a girl pre-menstruation and could continue until womanhood especially
if the female could not reproduce. This was usually due to the "wandering
womb theory" in which ancient physicians believed that if a woman did
not menstruate or procreate quickly the womb would literally wander the
body causing hysteria, pallor, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, nosebleeds,
choking and suicidal thoughts. In recent years, however, the concept of
a wandering womb has been physically discounted and theorists believe it
may be an ancient Greek folk illness due to a female's fear of unwanted
menarche, defloration or marriage. Conversely, it can also be ascribed to
the woman's trepidation that by not being able to menstruate properly or
conceive children she was a societal and familial failure.(29)
Dress is attributed to these fears and possible subsequent
suicide in two notable ways. Dealing with the lack of menstruation was the
application of warm lambskins to the girl's abdomen in order to draw out
the suppressed blood of a young girl who has failed to menstruate, instead
exhibiting hunger, thirst, vomiting blood and a fever.(30) Other therapies
expected to help keep the womb in place consisted of washing, oiling and
wrapping bandages around the body as well as vapor baths composed of aromatic
substances such as sulphur, laurel or animal excrement placed on hot ashes
under a cloth. Myrrh and other scented substances were also thought to have
warming qualities and were applied externally to the vagina as a fumigation.
It was believed that the womb could be lured downward and thus back to its
correct location by the use of the hodos, which utilized sweet scents
applied to the vagina while foul smells were inhaled by the nostrils.(31)
In the case of suicide the method often employed was strangulation
using the female's girdle as a noose. Although hanging evoked horror in
Greek society it was a particularly appropriate means of suicide to avoid
unwanted defloration or rape as well as the inability to menstruate and
conceive as it resulted in no bloodshed thus identifying with the strangulation
and bloodlessness of Artemis herself. Evidence of this can be seen in the
medical texts, the story of Kylon's daughter Myro, who although ripe for
marriage takes off her girdle and makes a noose of it,(32) as well as in
Aeschylus' Suppliants, in which the chorus threatens to hang themselves
to avoid having sex with men they despise.(33)
Marriage and Defloration
Ideally defloration of the female came on her wedding night,
both events which Artemis presided over. This usually occurred soon after
the girl began menstruating around the age of fourteen. It marked an important
transition as it indicated not only the female's farewell to maidenhood
and the savage realm of Artemis but also her introduction into a new household.
Although the ritual of marriage came with its own set of prescribed
dress those associated with menstruation, as well as the related bleeding
accompanying the losing of one's virginity, are notable.
One aspect of the bride's external appearance that may have
been related to her menstruation was the wearing of a saffron-dyed veil,
again noting the importance of saffron as an important herb in the folk
medicine of women.34 As Artemis was the goddess of transitions and a marriage
deity both males and females offered her locks of their hair on the wedding
night. According to Plutarch, brides in Sparta sometimes shaved their entire
head before presenting themselves to their husbands. As the wedding night
is the time of defloration, it was this transitional bleeding that Artemis
and the releasing of the girdle was associated. The girdle was thought to
have been tied in a ritual knot by Artemis that could only be untied by
her husband as he undressed her.35 It was also on the wedding night that
females dedicated all childhood toys to Artemis at her shrine as a parting
to adolescence. An epigraph in honor of Laconian goddess Artemis Limnatis
suggests this symbolic gift: Timareta, who is about to marry, dedicated
to thee, O goddess of Limnes, her tambourines, a ball she loved, a hairnet
that held her hair, and her dolls. She, a virgin, has dedicated these things,
as is fitting, to the virgin goddess, along with the clothing of these small
virgins. In return, O daughter of Leto, extend thy hand over the daughter
of Timaretos and piously watch over this pious girl.(36)
Another example of a marriage dedication can be seen here
in this kore [I had to delete the illustration], a free-standing
stone statue of a young Greek woman usually thought to have been a dedication
in sanctuaries of divinities or a funerary marker. This particular kore
is noted by its inscription as a wedding dedication of Nicandre, a Naxian
woman, to Artemis at her Delos sanctuary.
Wearing a snug, belted peplos, the kore has
holes in each hand thought to originally have held the metal attributes
of a bow and arrow thus identifying her as Artemis. We cannot be sure, however,
that the kore does not represent Nicandre herself.(37)
Applications, ingestions and insertions of herbal remedies
could still be used at this life stage, particularly those aiding in the
alignment of the womb and the preparation for conception.
In Diseases of Women a series of fertility tests, called
peireteria, are noted. One example from this Hippocratic corpus,
recounted in an article titled "Menstrual Catharsis and the Greek Physician,"
states, "If a woman has not conceived and you wish to determine whether
conception is possible, wrap her up in a cloak underneath which incense
should be burned. If the odor seems to pass through the body to the nose
and mouth, then she is not sterile."(38) In the same source fertility
could also be diagnosed if a pessary of garlic gave bad breath to the woman
the following day. Pennyroyal appears in the same context as a pessary,
this time mixed with honey and added to wool because it too exhibits a strong
odor. To be eaten for seven days prior to sleeping with her husband, a pennyroyal
soup made from flour and wine was thought to aid the woman in conception.(39)
Conception and Giving Birth
Conceiving children was seen as a wife's main duty and promoted
soon after the wedding. Only after giving birth to the first child and successfully
dispelling the lochia, or liquid discharge of the uterus after childbirth,
had the female finally become a true gyne, or full woman. Women often
spent the majority of their childbearing years pregnant or nursing children,
both causing the absence of menstruation. Again external dress changed little
during these stages.(40) The drape and roominess of the peplos and
chiton appears to have easily allowed for the expanded abdomen and
breasts of pregnant women. It is after the first child was born to a woman
that the absence of the girdle from her dress is seen, the possible reason
Dealing particularly with societal beliefs about the body,
this is an appropriate stage to discuss the Greek reflection of women as
containers represented in art. The medical texts make reference to such
often citing the neck and mouth of a jug as representing the vaginal opening
and the large body of the jug as her internal organs swelling with child.(41)
According to Sebesta, just as the wool-basket became a metaphor for wifehood,
"the Greeks were fascinated by the image of a pregnant woman containing
an unseen baby inside her. Hippocrates likened the womb to a cupping jar.
Aristotle speaks of the womb as an oven, and elsewhere we find the female
body correlated with a treasure chamber." (42)
The use of herbs in various applications once again aided
in the internal, private menstrual dress of these stages. Though this section
focuses on the promotion of conception and birth as the bearing children
was thought to be the desired societal role of women it is noteworthy to
mention that there is much evidence of similar body modifications being
used as contraceptives and abortifacients in the medical texts. It is unknown
how often or successfully they were used as the same herbs used in different
ways were thought to both promote conception as well as hinder it and the
line between discharging a late menses and an early abortion is unclear.(43)
A good example was the use of birthwort, known for its connection to the
ancients and childbirth, as a woman nursing a baby with birthwort leaves
in the background is found on an Egyptian vase from Thebes. It was often
ingested to ease a difficult childbirth but could also prevent that problem
altogether with its abortive and contraceptive agents. There is evidence
the ancient Greeks knew of this as Galen used it in a recipe for an abortifacient
to be drunk and Dioscorides placed it in a suppository with pepper and myrrh
to provoke menstruation or to expel a fetus.(44) The same goes for artemisia,
the plant named for Artemis and her diverse roles of goddess of forest,
woodlands, fertility and childbirth. It was thought to help hasten or assist
delivery, stimulate menstruation or remove the afterbirth. Ironically and
appropriately artemisia has recently been found to be an effective antifertility
agent tying it even more closely to Artemis' duality as the promoter of
fertility and infertility in humans and animals alike.(45) In the case of
unceasing lochial discharge after giving birth, Soranus writes in Gynecology,
as reprinted in Science, Folklore and Ideology, of the use of
And a soft piece of wool soaked in any of one of the said
juices (i.e. those which he has just described) should be inserted into
the orifice of the uterus with a finger or probe, particularly if the haemorrhage
comes from there. For if the haemorrhage comes from the parts above, the
wedged-in piece of wool hinders the flux, but retains the discharged blood
in the cavity. In such a case a soft clean sea sponge which is small and
oblong and soaked with the same substances should be inserted as far inside
as possible, so that the discharged blood may be absorbed and may not clot
and thus cause sympathetic reactions with inflammations.(46)
After the birth of a child the most documented form of change
in menstrual dress is seen in the form of dedications to Artemis. This usually
occurred in the first few days after delivery as the woman was thought to
be impure and thus should remain in the company of her midwife, friends
and neighbors and away from her husband until a ritual purification and
sacrifice was complete. Artemis once again released the girdle in labor
although another married woman physically and symbolically untied the knot.
After the successful labor it was dedicated to Artemis once and for all
and never worn by the woman, now a full gyne, again. Inscriptions
tell us that linens from the birthing bed as well as the clothing of women
who died in childbirth were also forms of textile dedications made to Artemis
at this stage.(47) Other items dealing with the female body and realm were
dedicated to Artemis, such as bronze objects, like this mirror found at
Brauron. Thousands of votive statues have also been found in reference to
childbirth usually depicting the giver, Artemis, a pregnant female, a male
infant or, in one case, two pair of vulvae and a pair of breasts, all inscribed
with gratuitous offerings for childbirth.(48)
The evidence regarding menopause in ancient Greece is little,
mainly due to the fact that the life span for women was much shorter than
it is today, resulting in death prior to menopause.
In the available data there is no marked modification in dress.
Aristotle and Soranus both believed women reached menopause, the end of
menarche and therefore the barrenness of the woman, somewhere between forty
and fifty-years-old. Since this information only comes from formal medical
texts we do not know how women felt about this change or whether or not
they had a name for it.(49)
There is evidence that some women who lived beyond menopause
were chosen by Artemis as priestesses because of their lack of menstruation.
This apparently came from a religious rule which stated that the power to
deliver other women's children should be done by those who could not deliver
their own. A History of Women quotes Plato's Theaetetus as
a valid source for this account, stating that Artemis "assigned the
privilege [of midwifery] to women who were past childbearing, out of respect
to their likeness to herself."(50) There are some citations of midwives
advancing enough to become physicians. Seen here receiving her license on
her mid-fourth century funeral monument is Phanostrate, the first woman
doctor identified as such in art [illustration unfortunately deleted].(51)
This in an important link to our historical readings of menstrual dress
and culture in the ancient world as the male authors of the existing medical
texts clearly state that they were written either for midwifery use or as
a result of midwives' providing the pertinent female voices and facts.
Conclusions and Comparisons
To the Greek female menstruation marked many of life's most
significant stages. Dress and appearance played important roles, from playing
the bear at Brauron and wearing protective herbal amulets and rags at menarche
to wedding night hair cutting and post-birth textile dedications. Although
the visual evidence is weak and we must read between the lines of medical
texts and inscriptions to find women's voices the scholarly research is
continual and promising. The men's voices, both as artist and author, also
provide valuable insight into their interpretations and beliefs regarding
menstruation. The reading of this ancient menstrual culture and its dress
is key to understanding and identifying the roles that females held both
socially and privately throughout their lives and the transformation from
young girls to women, brides, wives, mothers and elders.
Menstruation is a universal female experience regardless of
gender, ethnicity or era thus the knowledge of ancient Greece helps us to
comprehend our own menstrual culture. Although evolving, our medical philosophies
and texts derived directly from the writings of Aristotle and Hippocrates.
Besides the use of recent medical and scholarly writings one wonders if
and how our modern menstrual dress and culture will be preserved in the
form of art and artifact for future generations. One possible example is
the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health in the Washington, D.C., area.
The museum contains collections of the scientific, cultural and dress nature
of menstruation and inhabits the wood-paneled basement of founder, director
and curator Harry Finley's home in Hyattsville, Maryland, a suburb of Washington,
D.C. Finley has a bachelor's degree in philosophy from the John Hopkins
University and a partially completed masters degree in German. In the 1980s
he lived and worked in Germany as an art director for a small U.S. government
magazine. He is a graphic designer and is currently working [until 1 July
2004] at the National Defense University as a designer for the Department
of Defense. It was in Germany that he began collecting print advertisements
on menstruation, which led to purchasing the actual products at the grocery
store and Ebay and ultimately resulted in donations from major companies
[including Tambrands, Natracare, Johnson & Johnson and Procter &
Gamble] and private citizens. The collection, now totaling about four thousand
objects, makes up the exhibits in the museum Harry started in 1994 after
returning to the United States.(52)
The museum offers [it closed in 1998, but seeks a public place,
preferably in the Washington, D.C., area] a variety of artifacts, information,
art, books and devices, many of which are displayed on eight truncated mannequins
wearing items of menstrual dress from history such as a 1914 facsimile of
a Sears and Roebuck sanitary apron, belts and various underwear (see figure
10). For example, one display shows washable and ecologically friendly pads,
tampons and associated gear all created by small companies operated by women,
such as Natracare. Other forms of menstrual containment, such as two brands
of contemporary menstrual cups, the Instead and The Keeper, and one from
the 1970s, the Tassaway, are also exhibited. Historical print advertisements
make up another large part of the collection, like Kotex's first ad in January
1921 explaining the pad's origin as a bandage for soldiers in the World
War. A more light-hearted side of fashion regarding our menstrual culture
is preserved as a dress made of panty liners and maxi pads accompanied by
shoes embellished with tampons was the 1995 Halloween costume of a John
Hopkins University worker in the laboratory that developed the Instead menstrual
Finley has encountered problems, contention and threats as
a man in a woman's private world although he does not claim to be an authority
on the menstrual culture nor does he claim sole authorship of his exhibits.
He includes certified doctors, scholars and women on his board of directors,
as the main interpreters in the exhibits and as storytellers on the website.
He also provides a detailed provenance of each piece in his collection and
continually updates and cites new research, medical findings and writings
on menstruation and other issues related to women's health.(54) Prompted
by the backlash and his own educational training, Finley presents some ethical
dilemmas of collecting and displaying cultural property, especially on such
a taboo subject, in his speaking engagements, on his website and in his
exhibits. He provides compelling philosophical ideas about who owns or has
authority over the menstrual culture.
Ultimately the bias against the Museum of Menstruation lies
not in the physical museum and its objects but in the idea that menstruation
is not a valid topic. It is a theory, oddly enough, promoted almost solely
by women. Perhaps we fear Finley is a contemporary Galen or Soranus. Or
perhaps, much like our Greek predecessors, we still do not see menstrual
dress as culturally valid enough to preserve. By re-examining history and
redefining the way we think about menstruation and its associated dress,
changing assumptions and extending its application in new and different
ways, the Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health, along with scholars,
educators, authors and historians, is attempting to reform and revolutionize
Amy Pence-Brown wrote this paper
as a student at the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, Minnesota, and kindly
allowed me to put it on the MUM site.
The article is ©2003 Amy Pence-Brown. Footnotes
and bibliography are below.
1 Joanne B. Eicher and Mary-Ellen Roach-Higgins, "Dress
and Identity," in Dress and Identity, eds. Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins,
Joanne B. Eicher and Kim K.P. Johnson (New York: Fairchild Publications,
2 Judith Lynn Sebesta, "Visions of Gleaming Textiles
and a Clay Core: Textiles, Greek Women, and Pandora," in Women's
Dress in the Ancient Greek World, ed. L. Llewellyn-Jones (London: Duckworth
Publishing, 2002), 132.
3 Eicher and Roach-Higgins, "Dress and Identity,"
4 Joanne B. Eicher and Mary-Ellen Roach-Higgins, "Definition
and Classification of Dress: Implications for Analysis of Gender Roles,"
in Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning in Cultural Contexts, eds.
R. Barnes and J.B. Eicher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 13.
5 Janina K. Darling, "Form and Ideology: Rethinking Greek
Drapery," Hephaistos 16/17 (1998): 454; Robert Maynard Hutchins,
ed., Great Books of the Western World, vol. 10, Hippocrates/Galen,
trans. Francis Adams and Arthur John Brock (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica,
Inc., 1952), ix.
6 Aristotle, History of Animals, trans. Richard Cresswell
(London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, Covent Garden, 1887), iv-ix.
7 Soranus' Gynecology, trans. Owsei Temkin with the
assistance of Nicholas J. Eastman, Ludwig Edelstein and Alan F. Guttmacher
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991), xxiv-xxxii.
8 Hutchins, 163.
9 Helen King, "Medical texts as a source for women's
history," in The Greek World, ed. Anton Powell (London: Routledge,
10 Ibid., 200-210.
11 Eicher and Roach-Higgins, "Definition and Classification
of Dress," 14.
13 Helen King, "Bound to Bleed: Artemis and Greek Women,"
in Images of Women in Antiquity, eds. Averil Cameron and Amelie Kuhrt
(Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983), 117-125.
14 Charles Seltman, Women in Antiquity (New York: St.
Martin's Press, 1955), 93-97.
15 Darling, 63-64.
16 Pauline Schmitt Pantel, ed., A History of Women in the
West: I. From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints, trans. Arthur Goldhammer
(Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992), 342-344.
17 Nancy Demand, Birth, Death, and Motherhood in Classical
Greece (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), 107-113; Seltman,
18 Demand, 87-91; King, "Bound to Bleed," 109-116.
19 Lesley Dean-Jones, "Menstrual Bleeding According to
the Hippocratics and Aristotle," Transactions of the American Philological
Association 119 (1989): 177-178.
20 Helen King, "Self-help, self-knowledge: in search
of the patient in Hippocratic gynaecology," in Women in Antiquity:
New Assessments, eds. Richard Hawley and Barbara Levick (London: Routledge,
21 Demand, 88-91.
22 Helen King, Hippocrates' Woman: Reading the Female Body
in Ancient Greece (London: Routledge, 1998), 85.
23 E.J.W. Barber, Prehistoric textiles: the development
of cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with special reference to the
Aegean (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992), 257-258.
24 G.E.R. Lloyd, Science, Folklore and Ideology: Studies
in the Life Sciences in Ancient Greece (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1983), 177.
25 Ibid., 129.
26 Gillian Clark, "Health," chap. in Women in
Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
27 Demand, 90.
28 Clark, 77.
29 Demand, 55-57, 102-107; King, "Bound to Bleed,"
30 King, Hippocrates' Woman, 29.
31 Ibid., 36-37.
32 Ibid., 85.
33 King, "Bound to Bleed," 109-19.
34 Sebesta, 135.
35 King, "Bound to Bleed," 109-21; Demand, 88-91.
36 Pantel, 361.
37 Elaine Fantham, et al, Women in the Classical World
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 19.
38 Etienne Van de Walle, "Menstrual Catharsis and the
Greek Physician," in Regulating Menstruation: Beliefs, Practices,
Interpretations, eds. Etienne van de Walle and Elisha P. Renne (Chicago:
The University of Chicago Press, 2001), 12.
39 Ibid., 9-7, 12.
40 King, "Bound to Bleed," 121.
41 Van de Walle, 10-12
42 Sebesta, 126.
43 Van de Walle, 3-19; John M. Riddle, Eve's Herbs: A History
of Contraception and Abortion in the West (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University
Press, 1997), 35-82.
44 Riddle, 58-59.
45 Ibid., 47-48.
46 Lloyd, 195.
47 King, "Bound to Bleed," 120-125; King, Hippocrates'
Woman, 84-6; Pantel, 366-368.
48 Demand, 88-91; Fantham, et. al. 36-38.
49 Clark, 88; D.W. Amundsen and C.J. Diers, "The Age
of Menopause in Classical Greece and Rome," Human Biology 42
50 Pantel, ed., 374.
51 Demand, 68.
52 Harry Finley, Founder, Director and Curator, Museum of
Menstruation and Women's Health, email interview by author, Minneapolis,
Minnesota, April 29, 2003; Doug Kirby, Ken Smith and Mike Wilkins, "The
Museum of Menstruation," roadsideamerica.com: Your Online Guide
to Offbeat Tourist Attractions Website, Middletown, NJ, http://www.roadsideamerica.com/
(accessed April 29, 2003).
53 Harry Finley, The Museum of Menstruation and Women's
Health Website, Hyattsville, Maryland, http://www.mum.org/index.html
(accessed September 16, 2003); Finley interview.
54 The Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health Website.
55 Karen Warren, "A Philosophical Perspective on the
Ethics and Resolution of Cultural Properties Issues," in The Ethics
of Collecting Cultural Property, ed. Phyllis Mauch Messenger, 2nd ed.
(Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999),
Amundsen, D.W. and C.J. Diers. "The Age of Menopause
in Classical Greece and Rome." Human Biology 42 (1970): 79-86.
Aristotle. History of Animals. Trans. Richard Cresswell.
London: George Bell and Sons, York Street, Covent Garden, 1887.
Barber, E.J.W. Prehistoric textiles: the development of
cloth in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages with special reference to the Aegean.
Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1992.
Clark, Gillian. "Health." Chap. in Women in Late
Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Darling, Janina K. "Form and Ideology: Rethinking Greek
Drapery." Hephaistos 16/17 (1998): 447-69.
Dean-Jones, Lesley. "Menstrual Bleeding According to
the Hippocratics and Aristotle." Transactions of the American Philological
Association 119 (1989): 177-192.
Delaney, Janice, Mary Jane Lupton and Emily Toth. The Curse:
A Cultural History of Menstruation. Revised, expanded edition. Urbana,
IL: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
Demand, Nancy. Birth, Death, and Motherhood in Classical
Greece. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994.
Eicher, Joanne B. and Mary-Ellen Roach-Higgins. "Definition
and Classification of Dress: Implications for Analysis of Gender Roles."
In Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning in Cultural Contexts, eds.
R. Barnes and J.B. Eicher. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
________. "Dress and Identity." In Dress and
Identity, eds. Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins,
Joanne B. Eicher and Kim K.P. Johnson. New York: Fairchild
Fantham, Elaine, Helene Peet Foley, Natalie Boymel Kampen,
Sarah B. Pomeroy and H. Alan
Shapiro. Women in the Classical World. New York: Oxford
University Press, 1994.
Finley, Harry, Founder, Director and Curator, Museum of Menstruation
and Women's Health. Email interview by author, Minneapolis, Minnesota, April
Finley, Harry. The Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health
Website. Hyattsville, MD, http://www.mum.org/index.html (accessed September
Hutchins, Robert Maynard, ed. Great Books of the Western
World. Vol. 10, Hippocrates/Galen, trans. Francis Adams and Arthur
John Brock. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
King, Helen. "Bound to Bleed: Artemis and Greek Women."
In Images of Women in Antiquity, eds. Averil Cameron and Amelie Kuhrt.
Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1983.16-17.
________. Hippocrates' Woman: Reading the Female Body in
Ancient Greece. London: Routledge, 1998.
________. "Medical texts as a source for women's history."
In The Greek World, ed. Anton Powell. London: Routledge, 1995.
________. "Self-help, self-knowledge: in search of the
patient in Hippocratic gynaecology." In Women in Antiquity: New
Assessments, eds. Richard Hawley and Barbara Levick. London: Routledge,
Kirby, Doug, Ken Smith and Mike Wilkins. " The Museum
of Menstruation." roadsideamerica.com: Your Online Guide to Offbeat
Tourist Attractions Website. Middletown, NJ, http://www.roadsideamerica.com/
(accessed April 29, 2003).
Lloyd, G.E.R. Science, Folklore and Ideology: Studies in
the Life Sciences in Ancient Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University
McLure, Laura K., ed. Sexuality and Gender in the Classical
World. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2002.
Pantel, Pauline Schmitt, ed. A History of Women in the
West: I. From Ancient Goddesses to Christian Saints. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer.
Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992.
Riddle, John M. Eve's Herbs: A History of Contraception
and Abortion in the West. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1997.
Sebesta, Judith Lynn. "Visions of Gleaming Textiles and
a Clay Core: Textiles, Greek Women, and Pandora." In Women's Dress
in the Ancient Greek World, ed. L. Llewellyn-Jones. London: Duckworth
Seltman, Charles. Women in Antiquity. New York: St.
Martin's Press, 1955.
Soranus' Gynecology. Trans. Owsei Temkin with the assistance
of Nicholas J. Eastman, Ludwig Edelstein and Alan F. Guttmacher. Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.
Van de Walle, Etienne. "Menstrual Catharsis and the Greek
Physician." In Regulating Menstruation: Beliefs, Practices, Interpretations,
eds. Etienne van de Walle and Elisha P. Renne. Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 2001.
Warren, Karen. "A Philosophical Perspective on the Ethics
and Resolution of Cultural Properties Issues." In The Ethics of
Collecting Cultural Property, ed. Phyllis Mauch Messenger, 2 nd ed.
Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999.
The article is ©2003 Amy Pence-Brown.
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