New this week: Would you stop menstruating if you could? E-mail answers from you - Ad for Pursettes tampon ('Teen magazine, April 1959, U.S.A.) - humor

What did European and American women use for menstruation in the past?

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Celebrate the First Annual Menstrual Monday! See below.
A+ at Vassar

Last weekend I enjoyed giving a talk at Vassar College, in Poughkeepsie, New York, about the future of this museum and of menstruation itself, as part of a conference called The Unholy Triad: Reconfiguring Sex, Sexuality and Gender for the 21st Century.

It was April Fools' Day and the twenty or so students (three were males) - about average for "workshop" attendance, I think - in the lecture room eyed me warily, suspecting a prank. Oh, sure, "Museum of Menstruation"! And run by a man? Get the usher!

In fact, if I read the no-show of hands to my question correctly, no one had even heard of the museum prior to the conference. Only one student had read or even heard of the New Yorker article about John Rock and stopping menstruation and no one had read the book Is Menstruation Obsolete? (excerpts).

Is Vassar a menstrual backwater??

But how come I know so much? Eh?

I only had an hour to explain myself, and I got good questions about menstrual cups (about a third had heard of The Keeper cup) and where to find information about the cultural history of menstruation. Just as with the visitors in the actual museum, the students seemed to relax after a while.

Talking a mile a minute, I tried to squeeze six years of MUM into the short hour conducted on Vassar time, which someone explained to me was six minutes behind the rest of the world. This confirms my experience with many women (and my brother), Vassar having been a school for women for most of its life.

My intention was to let the participants fill out questionnaires asking if they would stop menstruating if they could (see New this week, above), but I rattled on to the end, and am relying on them to send their answers in. Please?

Thanks very much to the cheerful people who created the conference! I especially enjoyed the company of my truly international escort, Mary Chan, and remember the tasty veggie lunch she (well, the café) served up.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Margaret Sanger and W. K. Kellogg Supported Mandatory Sterilization of the "Unfit"

That's what the leading German news magazine Der Spiegel reported in its 27 March edition (issue #13 for 2000) in a one-page article about the eugenics sterilization laws in the United States adopted by 30 states, a program that started in Indiana, in 1907. I coincidentally put excerpts from a eugenics text, verbal and pictorial, on this site at the beginning of March. (It doesn't surprise me that at least one member of the Kellogg family, of breakfast-cereal fame, supported sterilization; read excerpts from Dr. J. H. Kellogg's magnum opus).

In 1936, the University of Heidelberg, in Germany, awarded American biologist Harry Laughlin, the creator of Virginia's eugenics laws, an honorary doctorate, a thank-you from Hitler, who used Virginia's laws as the model for his own ("Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses"). Laughlin would have "preferred to immediately castrate the most worthless tenth of the population," the magazine quoted him as saying (in my translation from German). Der Spiegel said one woman among the worthless was there because she had masturbated, a pet irritant of Dr. Kellogg.

Some of America's own universities, Harvard, Yale and Columbia among them, wrote studies about the threat of the "Untermenschen" - "subhumans," the Nazi-era word used by Der Spiegel.

Until 1979 (which is when Virginia - bumper stickers say "Virginia is for lovers" - abandoned the laws), from 60,000 to 100,000 Americans were sterilized against their will, for epilepsy, poverty, mental retardation, criminality and other "afflictions."

One of the points of the article is that among the "unfit" were very fit people who happened to belong to large families that had trouble supporting them. The Spiegel article begins with the state of Michigan throwing seven of the nine children of one such family into an insane asylum and then sterilizing them when they became 18, one right after the other. One boy, released four years after his sterilization, suffered a severe lung wound as a soldier in Korea, then became a farmer. Michigan recently rejected his claim for damages for his institutionalization and sterilization, saying he had waited too long to sue.

The strange thing, of course, is that while America fought Germany it too was neutralizing many of its unwanted citizens and forcing many black Americans to behave according to rules reminiscent of German anti-Jew (and -gypsy and -homosexual and . . .) laws.

What we are doing today that we will regret tomorrow?

Letters to Your MUM

What did women use for menstruation in American colonial times?

Good Morning, Mr. Finley,

I an 18th-century reenactor and I am frequently asked by the people who visit our camp how women dealt with their period in our time period which is the mid 1700's. I am hoping you can help me give the people a correct answer. I have read that they tied on linen rags which makes sense to me [or other kinds of cloth]. What did they use to protect their clothing. It has been suggested that their periods weren't heavy as ours are today because of the lack of a balanced diet. Also did the fact that they were much more physical then we are did that effect the amount of flow?

I would really like to be able these questions correctly. Thank you in advance for your attention to this.

[First, read a general discussion. Women in colonial times, and before, often had many children - many died; reduction in infant mortality in our century greatly contributed to the statistical lengthening of life we North Americans and Europeans enjoy - and sometimes breast fed the survivors for years, stopping menstruation. Women matured much later then and usually died earlier, much more often during or right after childbirth than today. (So much for the good old days.) All these factors, plus possibly poor nutrition and more sickness, meant that most colonial women menstruated much less than the 350-400 or so periods of today. And it's possible women became pregnant before having menstruated - yup, it's possible! So menstruation could have been an unusual event, maybe giving people the impression that is was a bad sign: the woman was bleeding - in any other case a sign that something was wrong - as punishment for not doing her duty, having kids!

[Read about this and much more in the thought-provoking Is Menstruation Obsolete? Here are some excerpts.]

She loves the Instead menstrual cup.


I'm forwarding a copy of an e-mail [below] I sent to UltraFem, praising the Instead menstrual cup [Web site], since your site was where I heard about it. I love the product, and pray it will be around as long as women are menstruating.

I was finally able to locate and try out your product; in fact, I've been using it now for three days, and I think it's WONDERFUL! I was a tampon-and-pad user (alternating during light to medium flow days, using both on heavy flow days) but I'll never be again! This product allows me to put it in and forget about it, only having to change it twice a day (I can wear it the full 12 hours, even on heavy flow days). I'm not having the vaginal dryness.

I always complained of that with tampons, and I'm not having to clean up the overflow mess from a pad that I seemed to always encounter. I was also very conscious with pads and tampons about the smell, and I can't even tell I'm on my period with Instead. I'm not currently involved with anyone, but when I am again, I'll know that I don't have to forego sex just because I'm on my period. The freedom is unimaginable! And not having to worry about increased risk of TSS makes it even more appealing. I could go on and on, but suffice it to say I'll never go back to pads and tampons, and when my daughter begins menstruating, I'll pass along this advice to her as well.

It took me a couple of times changing the cup out to get the hang of it, and it was a bit messy, but as your literature promised, it's just a matter of learning how. After a few more days of use, I'm certain I'll even feel comfortable changing one out in a public restroom if needs be. I was even able to sleep without a pad on, which was absolutely fabulous! I wore a thin pad the first two days, because I was worried about leakage, but I had absolutely NONE! I was skeptical, but your product far, far exceeded my expectations.

Please, PLEASE, tell me if this product is ever in danger of no longer being available, because I'll want to spend a month's salary to lay in a supply to last me a long time.

Tracee Fisher

Database Design Specialist

[writers' names and addresses normally don't appear unless they want them to]

My theoretical television partner, MUM board member Miki Walsh, urges you to send back those tampons - no, BEFORE you use them!

Hey, Finley!

It was pretty exciting! ["It" was the anti-tampon conference last weekend in Virginia; I went to Vassar.] I hope to write a big thing about it soon, when I'm not so frantic! [Miki works in Hollywood.]

But you might be interested in this:

There is a big anti-tampon campaign going on. There is an anti-tampon mailing list, etc. AND there is a nationwide send-back of tampons happening on 22 April! YOU should post about it on the MUM page and try to see if we can get more people to mail tampons back to the company!

[Tap dancer and good-sport Miki and I are poised on the brink of television fame. Read more! Read also about tampon safety.]

A Frenchman studying for a doctorate writes about menstruation in recent movies and literature:

Dear Sir,

I've just discovered your Web site devoted to menstruation and find it immensely comprehensive. [Thanks, but you haven't seen anything yet!]

I am a Young Research Fellow at the Universite de Paris-X-Nanterre and am preparing a Ph.D. in English literature. I specialize in post-colonial literature, and my topic is "Duality in Nuruddin Farah's novels".

Nuruddin Farah is a Somalian English-speaking novelist. He was awarded the Neustadt International Prize two years ago.

Most of his novels deal, directly or indirectly, with the issue of menstruation. In Sardines, an eight-year old girl is described as she plays with a tampon she has dressed as a doll. In Maps, the main (male) protagonist's foster-mother's "seasons" are given a complex treatment. At some point, the male protagonist is convinced he has menstruated too. (This is a very difficult passage. Actually, I intend to analyze this in a paper for a conference to be held in Paris next November).

In Secrets, his last novel to date, the main male protagonist, Kalaman, remembers his childhood infatuation with a girl named Sholoongo. One of their intimate rites was that he drank her menstrual blood. In the context of Somalian society, all this rings quite transgressive, as you can imagine.

Well, this is just a short survey of what can be (briefly) said about Farah's treatment of women's periods and menstrual blood. If you're interested, I could send you (in a few weeks) excerpts from the novels as well as comments of my own.

Hope I'm not being boring.

Congratulations on your Web site. [Thanks!]

Then another e-mail arrived:

Your site IS really impressive, and I am so glad the Internet makes such a fantastic collection of data available.

Now, come to think of it (because of the pages devoted to cinema), there is a very famous French film director called Arnaud Desplechin who is fascinated with menstruation. I suggest you check on his first movie (La Vie des Morts) but also on his latest (Comment je me suis disputé . . .).

In the latter, one of the female characters is convinced throughout the movie that she is pregnant. One of the most impressive scenes is when she showers and finds out that her period has come at last. The triple flux (shower water - tears - menstrual blood) is depicted in a rather literal (or, at least, non-symbolical) way.

Let me know if I can help.

Surely you're joking!

Part 1

I was happy to see your site (as my search continues . . . .) and also glad to see your even-handed approach to the answers about why we don't have much information about ancient or medieval practices in regards to, well, you know: (wo)menses. [That's pretty good!]

I have a question that may be unanswerable then, but I have to ask it because I need to write a joke (for a very cheap show).

Is it POSSIBLE that a woman in Europe (even more specifically a woman from southern France en route to Jerusalem in 1147) ever used sphagnum as a form of tampon, pad or something? It's just that I like my facts straight on these things, (not that anyone's ever checking these things but . . . .).

Thanks. Good luck with the research.

[Yes! Sphagnum moss forms on the top of bogs and people have used it for protecting plants and covering wounds for eons. Well, the predecessor of Kotex started out as a bandage for American soldiers in the First World War, and, according to the Kotex folks, nurses used it for absorbing their menstrual blood. So I'd say women in 1147 could have used it if they had had a bog handy. I suspect women have used anything they could find that could absorb fluids.]

Part 2


Hoping you can help.

I am currently researching menstruation for the purpose of writing a book, as I have found that I no longer need any sanitary products whatsoever; I can control my flow and release as you would urinate, when the need arises.

It appears that I am unique in this ability and I want to know of any history or know where women control their flow as you would any other bodily function.

I am keen to teach others what I have learnt but need more information on menstruation generally. Thanks for your time and look forward to hearing from you.

[The mail came from an Australian - who would have guessed? - male sender. This menstrual magic makes one think again about where it came from: down under.]

From Ireland to Washington to almost my house


I actually heard about you museum in Ireland, they were reviewing it on a very up-beat radio show [probably on Irish National Radio, which interviewed me about the same time Howard Stern did]. This was almost three years ago and now that I actually live in the vicinity it is with regret that you are closed.

I personally think if you had a different location more people would visit and it would feel more open. I guess it's a cultural thing that people are afraid of the unknown and especially where there are low traffic areas, i.e., your house. I'm afraid we are all a bit like sheep in that respect - following the crowd in comfort. [Especially when it's a museum of menstruation in the basement of a guy's house!]

Coming from a tea/coffee culture I think you are wise to have a resting spot where people can reflect and discuss there own past experiences with menstruation. [Read more about the future museum.]

I wish you well in your pursuit of knowledge. [Many thanks!]

Celebrate the First Annual Menstrual Monday!

When: The Monday before Mother's Day, because menstruation comes before motherhood (and usually long after it, too). This year's Menstrual Monday falls on May 8, 2000. If you live in a country that doesn't celebrate Mother's Day as in the United States, pick a day that seems appropriate and convenient for a "Menstrual Monday"!

Where: In your backyard at sunrise; in the cafeteria at lunch; after work; at your friend's house; in the classroom; in your dorm room - wherever is convenient and appropriate!

Why: To create a sense of happiness and fun around menstruation; to encourage women to be proactive in addressing menstrual and reproduction-related health issues; to encourage greater visibility of menstruation culturally, in film, print, music, and other media; and to enhance honesty about menstruation in our relationships.

How: Wear a red article of clothing, put a red tablecloth on the table at dinner; talk to an older or younger relative about her menstrual experiences; create some art or do some writing about menstruation, and share with friends; share information about PMS, endometriosis, or self-breast examinations; create a ritual involving red candles and red tulips. In short: Whatever seems convenient and appropriate to you!

Free Starter Kit!

Please feel free to download the above text to make flyers or post on your own Web site, to e-mail a friend, and so on. For more information, or to receive a FREE Menstrual Monday "starter kit" - please e-mail or write, with your address:

Geneva Kachman [read her "Menstrual Traveling Show," "In Search of Menarche: An Interview with Molly Strange," and review of the movie "Terms of Endearment."]

4881 Packard #A2

Ann Arbor, Michigan 48108

Is this the new millennium or even century?

You can get the correct information if you go to these pages published by the U S Naval Observatory: (that`s a capital "i" in


A comprehensive site from the Royal Observatory, Greenwich will put right any doubts:

Tell Your Congressperson You Support the Tampon Safety and Research Act of 1999! Here's How and Why

Help Wanted: This Museum Needs a Public Official For Its Board of Directors

Your MUM is doing the paper work necessary to become eligible to receive support from foundations as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. To achieve this status, it helps to have a American public official - an elected or appointed official of the government, federal, state or local - on its board of directors.

What public official out there will support a museum for the worldwide culture of women's health and menstruation?

Read about my ideas for the museum. What are yours?

Eventually I would also like to entice people experienced in the law, finances and fund raising to the board.

Any suggestions?

Do You Have Irregular Menses?

If so, you may have polycystic ovary syndrome [and here's a support association for it].

Jane Newman, Clinical Research Coordinator at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard University School of Medicine, asked me to tell you that

Irregular menses identify women at high risk for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which exists in 6-10% of women of reproductive age. PCOS is a major cause of infertility and is linked to diabetes.

Learn more about current research on PCOS at Brigham and Women's Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University - or contact Jane Newman.

If you have fewer than six periods a year, you may be eligible to participate in the study!

See more medical and scientific information about menstruation.

New this week: Would you stop menstruating if you could? E-mail answers from you - Ad for Pursettes tampon ('Teen magazine, April 1959, U.S.A.) - humor

What did European and American women use for menstruation in the past?

first page | contact the museum | art of menstruation | artists (non-menstrual) | belts | bidets | Bly, Nellie | MUM board | books (and reviews) | cats | company booklets directory | costumes | cups | cup usage | dispensers | douches, pain, sprays | essay directory | extraction | famous people | FAQ | humor | huts | links | media | miscellaneous | museum future | Norwegian menstruation exhibit | odor | pad directory | patent medicine | poetry directory | products, current | religion | menstrual products safety | science | shame | sponges | synchrony | tampon directory | early tampons | teen ads directory | tour (video) | underpants directory | videos, films directory | washable pads | LIST OF ALL TOPICS

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