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 (bio at bottom of page)
(click for Part 2 or Final Part), (©1997 Lynn Peril)
Date (more at the bottom of this page)
©1946, revised 1981, Kimberly-Clark Corp.
It was a small booklet, its aqua cover brightened with splashes of feminine
pink. My best friend Ruth's older sister kept it in her sock drawer, a hiding
place that was no match for two prying ten-year-olds. Ruth was the one who
found it. At first, I feigned polite interest in her discovery. But disinterest
soon gave way to disbelief and then to outright foreboding as I listened
to the information she imparted, barely believing that such a thing could
be true. For years afterwards, even the booklet's title, Very Personally
Yours, was guaranteed to give me the willies [see two covers].
For those of you not in the know - males, or females whose grade schools
used materials provided by a different manufacturer of feminine hygiene
products - Very Personally Yours was a pamphlet published by the
caring capitalists at Kimberly-Clark, manufacturers of Kotex, designed to
teach girls all about menstruation. Relentlessly cheerful, it glorified
the "miracle" that was about to befall our young bodies, and peddled
a particular vision of womanhood along with a certain brand of sanitary
napkin. In fact, it wasn't the cold, hard facts of menstruation that upset
me so much (although those were something of a shock to say the least) as
the idea that I was turning into this thing they called a "woman."
Of course, from the safe distance of adulthood, all bodily functions,
no matter how messy, are really quite fascinating, and those associated
with reproduction even more so. But at the time, it seemed as if my body
was betraying me. One day, everything was fine, and I ran around in my underwear,
boxing and wrestling with my dad and my brother.
The next day, we wormed our way through Ruth's sister's bureau and discovered
that our future was filled with breasts, hips, pubic hair and - blood!
And, as if this weren't disconcerting enough, according to VPY, one
was actually supposed to be happy about these absurd bodily changes:
From your earliest chalk-and-blackboard days, you've looked forward
to your graduation - dreamed of it, with stars in your eyes. It's as though
all your young life, you've been waiting on tiptoe for the very special
day that would mark the commencement of a wonderful adventure: your debut
into the adult world.
So, too, your physical self has been preparing for another momentous
adventure: your graduation from"little girl" to grown-up. This
slow body process has been at work so quietly you were scarcely aware of
it. Then, one day, you knew. You began to menstruate.
The VPY pamphlet was but one prong of a Kimberly-Clark juggernaut
aimed at instilling brand loyalty in soon-to-be-consumers of their sanitary
products. If you are of a certain age, you remember the day in the fifth
grade when the boys went out to play kickball, while the girls stayed in
to watch a special film presentation. It wasn't Hemo the Magnificent - but
it wasn't entirely unrelated, either. Segregated in a darkened classroom,
the girls were treated to The Story of Menstruation (here),
a Walt Disney Production originally released in the 1950s but still being
shown at least as late as the early 1970s, when I saw it. My memory is rather
sketchy as to what the film was actually like - I was much too overcome
by guilt and shame to pay adequate attention. Thank goodness there wasn't
a quiz afterward.
Luckily for us all, Janice Delany, Mary Jane Lupton and Emily Toth provided
the following synopsis in their wonderful book, The Curse: A Cultural
History of Menstruation (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois
Press, revised edition, 1988):
In the Disney world, the menstrual flow is not blood red but snow white.
The vaginal drawings look more like a cross section of a kitchen sink than
the outside and inside of a woman's body. There are no hymen, no clitoris,
no labia; all focus is on the little nest and its potentially lush lining.
Although Disney and Kimberly-Clark advise exercise during the period, the
exercising cartoon girls (who look like Disney's Cinderella) are drawn
without feet; bicycles magically propel themselves down the street without
any muscular or mental direction from the cyclist. The film ends happily
ever after, with a shot of a lipsticked bride followed immediately by a
shot of a lipsticked mother and baby.
In fact, it was just this connection between menstruation, marriage
and motherhood that left me confused at best, and horrified at worst. I
mean, I was ten years old! At that age, fed on a diet of Bewitched (where
Darrin didn't let Samantha use her powers) and I Love Lucy (where Ricky
treated Lucy like some sort of imbecile child), getting married didn't look
like any fun at all. And having a baby? I didn't even like baby dolls
(see note 1). But historically, this is
the connection that has been used in teaching girls about menstruation.
Not that science even knew how the menstrual cycle worked until relatively
recently. Dr. George Napheys, a 19th-century authority whose The Physical
Life of Woman: Advice to the Maiden, Wife and Mother was published in
1870, offered the following explanation of why women menstruated:
Perhaps it is a wise provision that she is thus reminded of her lowly
duty, lest man should make her the sole object of his worship or lest the
pride of beauty should obscure the sense of shame. But this question concerns
rather the moralist than the physician, and we cease asking why it is,
and shall only inquire what it is.
Another medical man of the time, Burt Green Wilder, threw up his hands
and admitted in What Young People Should Know: The Reproductive Function
in Men and Lower Animals (Boston: Estes & Lauriat, 1875) that "no
satisfactory explanation has, as yet, been offered" as to the purpose
Of course, this lack of knowledge didn't keep medical and advice writers
from offering myriad behavioral restrictions to menstruating women. Authorities
stressed that women needed to avoid bathing (except for the "afflicted
part"), as well as strenuous exercise, such as dancing or long walks.
More ominously, at least according to James Ashton in his 1865 tome The
Book of Nature (note 2), young wives,
innocent though they might be, could "give [their] husband[s] the disease
called gonorrhea" through sexual contact during their period. Dr. Napheys
even related the tragic tale of a young man who, after contracting "gonorrhea"
from his apparently virginal bride on their wedding trip, committed suicide.
But is our old friend Pye Henry Chavasse (see MD #4), who used language
astonishingly similar to that found in Very Personally Yours and
The Story of Menstruation in his 1878 Advice to a Wife. The italics,
by the way, appear in the original:
Menstruation - "the periods" - the appearance of the catamenia
or the menses - is then one of the most important epochs of a girl's
life. It is the boundary-line, the landmark between childhood and womanhood;
it is the threshold, so to speak, of awoman's life. Her body now
develops and expands, her mental capacity enlarges and improves. She then
ceases to be a child and becomes a woman. She is now, for the first time,
able to conceive.
Just because many books discussed menstruation didn't mean that mothers
shared them with their daughters. In fact, many of these texts remarked
upon the necessity of young women being given truthful explanations of the
menstrual and reproductive processes, which suggests that most girls weren't
getting the information they needed. The "Self and Sex Series"
did much to alleviate such ignorance. Published at the turn of the century
by adherents of the social purity movement (which advocated abstinence before
marriage, and "continence" - limiting sex to its procreative function
- afterward, as well as sex education), these books sold in numbers that
would make Barbara Cartland weep with jealousy. (Click
for Part Two)
1 And oh, how the worm has turned regarding
both these subjects. See MD #4 for my paen to wedded bliss, and if you pause
right now and listen hard, that's my biological clock you hear ticking.
2 Or, if you'd like to look for it in your
local library under its full title: *The Book of Nature: Containing Information
for Young People Who Think of Getting Married, on the Philosophy of Procreation
and Sexual Intercourse; Showing How to Prevent Conception and to Avoid Child-bearing*.
A reprint edition is available as part of the series Sex, Marriage and Society:
Birth Control in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Arno Press, 1974.
Oh, the Peril(s) of Mystery Date!
Lynn says this about herself:
I have a masters in history from San Francisco
State U., with a concentration in Gender and a minor in American history.
I'm a free-lance writer whose work has appeared in the San Francisco
Bay Guardian and Slant, among other publications. Mystery Date is a zine
devoted to my obsession with used books - particularly old sex and dating
manuals, etiquette and self-help books, and health, beauty and fashion guides.
Two essays from Mystery Date will appear in
The Zine Reader, to be published the spring of 1998 by Henry Holt &
By the way, about the cover of MD#5: it's from an ad for whatever
brand bra it is. The full ad featured a really sad woman (without a crown)
whose only sin was wearing the wrong bra. Wearing the right one gets you
a crown and Mystery Date cover girl status!
Mystery Date costs $1.50 each for the five so far. Order from
Lynn Peril, P.O. Box 641592, San Francisco, CA 94164-1592
and this is the Mystery
Date Web site.