From grass mats to tampons.
You're really lucky you live in the 21st century!
No, not because you can listen to concerts from across the world in your bedroom thanks to the Internet. But because you don't have to sit on a grass mat when you get your period!
Up until about 70 years ago, girls who were "on it" had a lot of weird methods for protection. From cave women to 1920s flappers, women really had to be creative. They made pads from stuff like sponges (yes, from the ocean) and grass. Ancient Egyptians made tampons from softened papyrus leaves, and the ancient Greeks in the 5th century BC used lint wrapped around wood as a tampon—ouch! Other global girls from the past used:
- Wool (Rome)
- Paper (Japan)
- Rolls of grass (Africa)
"On the Rag"
In the 1800s, most American teens and women owned a "rag bag." These were used to stash pieces of cotton and other cloth that were used as pads, and then soaked, washed, and used again! (So when a woman said she was "on the rag"—she wasn't kidding!)
In the later 1800s, the first disposable maxi pads were created—Yippee! But because of snooty advertising standards at that time, nobody knew about them and they were a big flop. Then, during World War I, army nurses started making disposable pads from gauze, cheesecloth, and surgical cotton.
Finally, in the 1920s, companies started making pads and advertising them in women's magazines. Women would safety-pin them to their underwear—scary if that pin popped! Or they'd hold them with a "sanitary belt." This was like a garter belt that went around your waist. There was a strap in the front and in the back, with pins or tabs to hold the pad.
Another choice was the sanitary apron. This was big, bulky, and probably really hot! Here's what that was like:
- Start with a big flap of rubber about the size of a half-apron (the kind you tie around your waist)
- Pin a piece of cloth (like a diaper) to it
- Tie it around your waist, but with the flap in the back. (The diaper part hangs down against your butt, the rubber side goes against your skirt.)
Think of that the next time you think a maxi pad with wings is bulky!
The First Tampon
The first commercially produced tampons were invented in 1936 by Dr. Earl Cleveland Haas, and marketed under the name Tampax. Social prejudice and bad information kept tampons from being popular until the 1960s and 1970s. People were afraid that they could lose their virginity by using tampons, or that they would just drop out on the street! NOT!
In the 1970s and '80s there were two more really big developments in feminine protection:
- Self-adhesive pads were invented—no more belts or pins!
- Tampons and pads were allowed to be advertised on TV
So—see how lucky you are? All you have to do is go to the store or go online and get any type of pad or tampon you like. Of course, if you can't find anything you like, you can always go "on the rag."