The history of underwear sheds light on what women used for menstruation.
What women used in earlier times: See nineteenth-century Norwegian washable pads and an Italian washable "rag" from before 1900 - German patterns for washable pads, about 1900 - Japanese patterns for washable pads (early 20th century) - Contemporary washable pads - Women sometimes wore washable pads with a sanitary apron - Egyptian hieroglyphics telling of tampon use - The first commercial tampons, (U.S.A., 1930s) - Menstrual cups (1930s) - Special underpants
CONTRIBUTE to Humor, Words and expressions about menstruation and Would you stop menstruating if you could?
Some MUM site links:

MUM address & What does MUM mean? |
Email the museum |
Privacy on this site |
Who runs this museum?? |
Amazing women! |
Art of menstruation |
Artists (non-menstrual) |
Asbestos |
Belts |
Bidets |
Bly, Nellie |
MUM board |
Books: menstruation and menopause (and reviews) |
Cats |
Company booklets for girls (mostly) directory |
Contraception and religion |
Costumes |
Menstrual cups |
Cup usage |
Dispensers |
Douches, pain, sprays |
Essay directory |
Extraction |
Facts-of-life booklets for girls |
Famous women in menstrual hygiene ads |
Founder/director biography |
Gynecological topics by Dr. Soucasaux |
Humor |
Huts |
Links |
Masturbation |
Media coverage of MUM |
Menarche booklets for girls and parents |
Miscellaneous |
Museum future |
Norwegian menstruation exhibit |
Odor |
Olor |
Pad directory |
Patent medicine |
Poetry directory |
Products, some current |
Puberty booklets for girls and parents|
Religion |
Religión y menstruación |
Your remedies for menstrual discomfort |
Menstrual products safety |
Seguridad de productos para la menstruación |
Science |
Shame |
Slapping, menstrual |
Sponges |
Synchrony |
Tampon directory |
Early tampons |
Teen ads directory |
Tour of the former museum (video) |
Underpants & panties directory |
Videos, films directory |
Words and expressions about menstruation |
Would you stop menstruating if you could? |
What did women do about menstruation in the past? |
Washable pads |
Read 10 years (1996-2006) of articles and Letters to Your MUM on this site.
Leer la versión en español de los siguientes temas: Anticoncepción y religión, Breve reseña - Olor - Religión y menstruación - Seguridad de productos para la menstruación.


Articles and comments about women and menstruation in 17th century England

John Freind, the number 7, and why women have periods by Dr Sara Read

John Freind (1676-1728) graduated with an MB from Christ Church, Oxford in 1701, and in 1704 he became the Professor of Chemistry there. He was a very famous physician in his day.
Freind was an advocate of Isaac Newton’s ideas about physics and used these to inform his theories of menstruation. In fact, though, Freind was not an innovator in his ideas, and more often than not, he used physics to prove the ‘truth’ of the ancient ideas about the reasons for menstruation as set out by Hippocrates in the first century CE.

In Emmenologia Freind wrote that menstrual periods commonly began when a girl reached the age of 14 and continued until the age of 49 as he believed in the Pythagorean ideas about the perfection of the number 7. Freind writes, ‘The menstrous Purgation, or a flux of Blood issuing from the Uterus every Month, usually begins its Periods at the Second Septenary, and terminates at the Seventh, or the Square of the number seven’ (p. 1). He also wrote against the myths that abounded about the ‘poisonous’ nature of menstrual blood saying that ‘healthy persons, that blood which is ejected is not at all impure or tainted, but very good and fragrant’ (p. 4). He also reiterated Hippocratic ideas by writing rather graphically that the blood lost in a period should be ‘ruddy and florid resembling the Blood flowing out of the Veins of a Sacrifice newly slain’ (p. 2). Freind explained that he thought there were two main reasons why women have periods:
1. To clear out the womb to make it ready for a pregnancy, and 2. To ensure that women had a store of blood to nourish the unborn child.
It was a normal early-modern belief that the foetus was nourished by the mother’s menstrual blood (they believed that this was the reason women do not have periods when they’re pregnant).
Freind believed that the amount of blood a woman might lose at a period will vary from woman to woman but that it was often around a pint:
The quantity of the evacuated Blood is different according to the variety of Constitutions, Diet, Age, or the Like; yet in healthy and adult Persons it commonly amounts to twenty Ounces, which agrees with the measure assigned by Hippocrates, namely two Heminas. (p. 1)
A ‘hermina’ is approximate to half an imperial pint. This is far greater than the norms quoted in medical literature today which say 2-3 fluid ounces is typical. Freind’s book was challenged by other writers in the eighteenth century, but remains famous for being the first one published just on periods alone.

See a portrait of John Freind (1725) at <>

© 2013 Sara Read

Dr Sara Read is a teacher in the department of English and Drama at Loughborough University, England. She was awarded a PhD on the topic of menstruation in early-modern England in 2010, which is currently being turned into a book, and has written a number of articles on the topic. She is co-editor of an anthology of seventeenth-century women’s writing which is being published by Manchester University Press in 2013.
More from Dr Read (and more):

"Mrs King of Northfleet’s Menstruating Leg Ulcer"

Did many women intentionally menstruate into their clothing in 17th-century Britain? "Thy righteousness is but a menstrual clout: sanitary practices and prejudice in early modern England"

See Dr Read's articles in the MUM bibliography.

Other Out of the Past topics:

"When they menstruated, they left a trail of blood behind them."
What did European and American women use for menstruation in the 19th century and before? (With additions about Muslim law and Jewish law.)

page © 2013 Harry Finley