A Brief History of Period Products, and the Little-Known Inventor who Revolutionized Them

Posted by Ann Lambert on 15 February 2024

Have you ever wondered what menstruators did before period products were invented? There are many different historical accounts, including: 

  • “Tampons” made of lint wrapped around wood in Ancient Greece, and papyrus leaves in Ancient Egypt

  • “Pads” made of moss and buffalo skin in Indigenous communities

  • Woven fabric or flannel used as cloth pads in 18th and 19th century Europe

It wasn’t until the 1890s that early versions of modern-day period products began hitting the market. 

In 1897, Johnson & Johnson started selling America’s first commercially produced, disposable “sanitary napkins”. They were called Lister’s Towels, made of cotton and gauze, but period stigma ultimately made them a commercial failure

The applicator tampon was invented and patented by Dr. Earle Haas in 1931. That patent was later bought by a female entrepreneur named Gertrude Tendrich, who founded Tampax in 1934. The menstrual cup also had its commercial beginnings in the 1930s, when Leona Chalmers became the first to patent and market the device in 1937. That said, it took decades for either of these products to gain popularity among menstruators due to moral taboos and health concerns. 

Well into the 1940s and 50s… 

  • Blood leakage on clothes was still common with sanitary napkins, as there was no reliable way to secure them in place. 

  • Many menstruators were still using rags as ‘pads’ with high risks of infection, and staying home from work or school on their periods. 

Innovations in the menstrual pad market were not only welcome, but needed. Enter: Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner. 

Mary Kenner was a Black female inventor who revolutionized period care. She invented the sanitary belt, an adjustable device with a built-in, moisture-proof pocket to keep sanitary napkins in place. This significantly reduced the risk of blood stains, giving menstruators the confidence to go about their days while on their periods. 

Kenner patented the sanitary belt in 1957, a process which is said to have taken her about 30 years due to systemic racism, sexism, and financial constraints. After getting her patent, a company approached her with an interest in marketing her product, but changed their minds when they found out she was Black. 

It wasn’t until the 1970s that tampons gained popularity and adhesive pads were invented. But until then, sanitary belts were the best option for managing a period safely, comfortably and affordably. Mary Kenner never became rich from her inventions and her legacy is largely under-recognized, yet the history of period products isn’t complete without her story. 

It’s important to recognize that menstrual products were invented, distributed and popularized at a very slow pace because of period poverty and menstrual inequity. While these products existed for most of the 20th century, many menstruators were either too ashamed to buy them or could not afford them. 

Even as these products became mainstream, the tendency to use blue, rather than red liquid in pad commercials and test product absorbency with water instead of blood are both indicators of persistent period stigma. Did you know that it wasn’t until 2023 that absorbency tests for period products were conducted using blood for the first time?!
We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got further to go. One in six Canadian menstruators said they had personally experienced period poverty in a 2023 report. Plenty of stigma and misconceptions about periods persist to this day. That’s why The Period Purse’s work in outreach, education and advocacy are so important. By increasing product accessibility, promoting evidence-based period education and challenging the status quo, we can all collectively make periods a little more dignified for all menstruators — just like Mary Kenner did.

 

 

Une brève histoire des produits menstruels et de l'inventrice méconnue qui les a révolutionnés

Vous êtes-vous déjà demandé ce que faisaient les personnes ayant leurs règles avant l'invention des produits menstruels ? Les récits historiques sont nombreux et variés, tels que : 

  • Des "tampons" faits de peluche enroulée autour de bois dans la Grèce antique, et de feuilles de papyrus dans l'Égypte ancienne

  • Des "serviettes sanitaires" faits de mousse et de peau de buffle dans les communautés autochtones 

  • Du tissu tissé ou de la flanelle utilisés comme serviettes dans l'Europe des 18e et 19e siècles

Ce n'est que dans les années 1890 que les premières versions des produits menstruels modernes ont commencé à être commercialisées. 

En 1897, Johnson & Johnson a commencé à vendre les premières "serviettes hygiéniques" jetables produites commercialement en Amérique. Elles étaient appelées "Lister's Towels" et composées de coton et de gaze, mais les préjugés liés aux règles en ont fait un échec commercial

Le tampon avec applicateur a été inventé et breveté par le Dr Earle Haas en 1931. Ce brevet a ensuite été acheté par une femme entrepreneur du nom de Gertrude Tendrich, qui a fondé Tampax en 1934. La coupe menstruelle a également connu ses débuts commerciaux dans les années 1930, lorsque Leona Chalmers a été la première à breveter et à commercialiser le produit en 1937. Cela dit, il a fallu des décennies pour que l'un ou l'autre de ces produits gagne en popularité parmi les personnes ayant des menstruations, en raison de tabous moraux et d'inquiétudes pour la santé. 

Dans les années 1940 et 1950... 

  • Les taches de sang sur les vêtements étaient encore fréquentes avec les serviettes sanitaires, car il n'existait pas de moyen fiable de les maintenir en place. 

  • De nombreuses personnes menstruées utilisaient encore des guenilles comme serviettes, avec des risques élevés d'infection, et restaient à la maison pendant leurs règles. 

Les innovations sur le marché des serviettes sanitaires n'étaient pas seulement les bienvenues, elles étaient nécessaires. Entrée en scène : Mary Beatrice Davidson Kenner. 

Mary Kenner est une inventrice noire qui a révolutionné le soin des règles. Elle a inventé la ceinture sanitaire, un dispositif réglable doté d'une poche intégrée résistante à l'humidité pour maintenir les serviettes sanitaires en place. Ce dispositif réduit considérablement le risque de taches de sang et permet aux personnes ayant leurs règles de vaquer à leurs occupations en toute confiance. 

Kenner a breveté la ceinture hygiénique en 1957, un processus qui lui a pris environ 30 ans en raison du racisme systémique, du sexisme et des contraintes financières. Après avoir obtenu son brevet, une entreprise l'a approchée pour commercialiser son produit, mais a changé d'avis lorsqu'elle a découvert qu'elle était noire. 

Ce n'est que dans les années 1970 que les tampons ont gagné en popularité et que les serviettes adhésives ont été inventées. Mais jusque-là, les ceintures sanitaires étaient la meilleure option pour gérer les règles en toute sécurité, dans le confort et à un prix abordable. Mary Kenner ne s'est jamais enrichie grâce à ses inventions et son héritage est largement méconnu, mais elle fait partie intégrante de l'histoire des produits menstruels. 

Il est important de reconnaître que les produits menstruels ont été inventés, distribués et popularisés très lentement en raison de la précarité et de l'iniquité menstruelle. Bien que ces produits existaient pendant la majeure partie du 20e siècle, de nombreuses personnes menstruées avaient trop honte de les acheter ou n'avaient pas les moyens de se les procurer. 

Même quand ces produits sont devenus courants, la tendance à utiliser un liquide bleu plutôt que rouge dans les publicités pour les serviettes sanitaires et à tester le pouvoir absorbant des produits avec de l'eau plutôt qu'avec du sang sont deux indicateurs de la persistance de la stigmatisation des règles. Saviez-vous que ce n'est qu'en 2023 que les tests d'absorption des produits pour les règles ont été effectués pour la première fois avec du sang ?

Nous avons parcouru un long chemin, mais ce n’est pas fini. Dans un rapport publié en 2023, une personne menstruée canadienne sur six a déclaré une expérience vécue avec la pauvreté menstruelle. De nombreux préjugés et idées fausses sur les règles persistent encore aujourd'hui. C'est pourquoi le travail de sensibilisation, d'éducation et de revendication chez The Period Purse est si important. En améliorant l'accessibilité des produits, en promouvant l’éducation basée sur les preuves et en remettant en question le statu quo, nous pouvons tous collectivement rendre les règles un peu plus dignes pour toutes les personnes menstruées - tout comme Mary Kenner l'a fait.

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Aisle Partners with Fleming College to Donate $10,000 Worth of Period Products

Posted by Megan Apa on 2 February 2024
Aisle Partners with Fleming College to Donate $10,000 Worth of Period Products

In a powerful move towards sustainability and menstrual equity, period product company Aisle has teamed up with Fleming College to donate $10,000 worth of reusable period products.

Founded in 1993, Aisle was built on the belief that “the period aisle should be stocked with radically comfortable products that actually work — for people and the planet”. Their line of products ranges from reusable pads and liners, to leak proof underwear and menstrual cups, all designed with a goal to empower people with periods to embrace sustainability.

This joint initiative has allowed Fleming College to include reusable menstrual products in all of the Emergency Food Banks across their campuses. These food banks are operated by the Fleming Student Administrative Council (SAC), which provides a helping hand to students and families facing challenges in the community. These locations will now be able to offer long term, sustainable solutions to period poverty at a local level.

How much of a difference do reusable menstrual products make??

It’s becoming increasingly well known that reusable menstrual products have a positive environmental impact, thanks to the fact that they last for years with recommended use and care. 

Over 5 years of use, these reusable products are equivalent to a whopping 71,518 disposable pads/tampons. This stops roughly 717 kilograms of period products from ending up in landfills!

In donating these products, Aisle has avoided a staggering 2,516 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions. To provide a tangible comparison, this is equivalent to the emissions saved by driving a car for almost 10,000 kilometers!

The energy conserved through Aisle’s donation amounts to an impressive 26,450 kilowatt-hours. To put this in perspective, that's the equivalent to the energy consumption of 110,166 days (over 300 YEARS) of LED bulbs!

When it comes to making the world a better place, every act of kindness, no matter the scale, is a step in the right direction, whether you're a small business like Aisle, an institution like Fleming College, or a small group of friends contributing to a local food bank. By fostering a culture of compassion and empathy, we pave the way for a future where no one has to face the challenges of period poverty alone.

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help end period poverty in your community, check out our Mini Drives.
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The Period Purse's Menstruation Nation Program Goes Bilingual in 2024

Posted by Megan Apa on 13 January 2024
The Period Purse's Menstruation Nation Program Goes Bilingual in 2024

In an exciting move allowing for an even wider reach, The Period Purse 's Menstruation Nation program will soon be releasing all French language modules (for youth & adults) starting in 2024! Menstruation Nation is an educational initiative that strives to enlighten everyone about periods and menstrual equity, regardless of age and gender. As Education Coordinator, Vikki VanSickle describes it, “You don't have to be a menstruator to care about and fight for menstrual equity. Menstruation Nation is the dream of a country that understands, respects and supports menstruators”.

The decision to offer Menstruation Nation in French aligns with The Period Purse's mission to provide comprehensive, up-to-date education to as many Canadians as possible. By translating presentations and educational materials and hiring a bilingual Facilitator, TPP will be able to expand the program to French-speaking community groups, organizations, and schools.

As TPP continues to champion menstrual equity, the Menstruation Nation program's bilingual option represents a significant stride towards building a more informed, empathetic, and united approach to periods. To book a French presentation and be a part of this educational movement, visit The Period Purse's website and join us as we strive towards menstrual equity.

Book your French presentation today!

 

Le programme Menstruation Nation de The Period Purse devient bilingue en 2024

Par Megan Apa

Le programme Menstruation Nation de The Period Purse va bientôt publier tous les modules en français (pour les jeunes et les adultes) à partir de 2024 ! Menstruation Nation est une initiative éducative qui s'efforce d'éclairer toutes et tous sur les menstruations et l'équité menstruelle, indépendamment de l'âge et du sexe. Comme le décrit Vikki VanSickle, coordinatrice de l'éducation, " il n'est pas nécessaire d'avoir ses règles pour se préoccuper de l'équité menstruelle et se battre pour cela.  Menstruation Nation est le rêve d'un pays qui comprend, respecte et soutient les personnes menstruées ".

La décision d'offrir Menstruation Nation en français s'aligne sur la mission de The Period Purse de fournir une éducation complète et à jour au plus grand nombre de canadiennes et de canadiens possible. En traduisant les présentations et le matériel éducatif et en embauchant une animatrice bilingue, TPP sera en mesure d'étendre le programme aux groupes communautaires, aux organisations et aux écoles francophones.

Alors que TPP continue de défendre l'équité menstruelle, l'option bilingue du programme Menstruation Nation représente une avancée significative vers une approche plus informée, plus empathique et plus unie des menstruations. Pour réserver une présentation en français et faire partie de ce mouvement éducatif, visitez le site Web de The Period Purse et rejoignez-nous dans notre quête d'équité menstruelle.

Réservez votre dès maintenant votre présentation en français!

 

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How to Give the Gift of Menstrual Equity this Holiday Season

Posted by Ann Lambert on 16 December 2023
How to Give the Gift of Menstrual Equity this Holiday Season

From bringing people together for a good cause, to making a donation in a loved one’s name – giving back to your community is the perfect way to spread holiday cheer. Here are four impactful ways to do just that with The Period Purse this holiday season. 

Period Presents

Make a difference on behalf of someone you love by dedicating a Period Present to them! Your loved one will receive an e-card about the donation you made in their name and the impact it will have on someone who needs it.

When you donate financially, you will be part of the puzzle getting free period products and education to those who need it. There are four tiers of Period Presents. 

-   $15 for one month’s supply of period products

-   $40 for one reusable menstrual cup 

-   $100 for one educational presentation 

-   $180 provides one YEAR of period supplies 

The Collective

Keep the spirit of giving alive all year by joining the Collective – a group of monthly donors committed to supporting our cause monthly. $15 is just one bottle of wine, or two fancy lattes, or for The Period Purse helps us purchase more period products!

The generous support we receive from the Collective allows us to continuously and sustainably provide free menstrual products and provide free education sessions. 

Happy Holidays from TPP!

On that note, we are so grateful for the tremendous growth and support we have seen this year. We can’t wait to share all that’s in store for 2024, and we wish you all a safe, happy and restful holiday season!


 
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A Look Back at Our History: TPP Through the Years

Posted by Ann Lambert on 18 November 2023
A Look Back at Our History: TPP Through the Years

A lot has happened since our Founder, Jana Girdauskas, filled her first period purse in February 2017. As 2023 draws to a close, let’s take a look at some of the many milestones that mark our nearly seven-year history.

2017

  • In February, Jana made a Facebook post asking for a spare purse for her new ‘Period Purse’ idea. In less than a week, she had 11 purses.

    • The media picked up on the idea, and Jana was soon making local news headlines.

    • Within a month, she and her network of volunteers packed over 300 purses, and the Period Purse took off.

  • In October 2017, high school student and TPP volunteer Tait launched Menstruation Nation.

2018

  • Our Board of Directors was inaugurated in 2018 and TPP’s first Strategic Plan was launched soon after.

  • Following relentless advocacy by TPP alongside city Councilor Kristyn Wong-Tam, the City of Toronto recognized Menstrual Hygiene Day for the very first time on May 28, 2018.

    • Toronto City Council also passed a motion that year to allocate $255,000 CAD in the 2019 budget for menstrual products in shelters, drop-ins and health centres.

2019

  • In 2019, TPP made history as the first federally registered charity in Canada dedicated to achieving menstrual equity.

  • Member of Parliament for Parkdale-High Park, Arif Varani, brought national attention to the menstrual inequity when he spoke about TPP in the House of Commons.

2020

  • We continued to support marginalized menstruators during COVID-19 and adapted our work as needed.

  • We introduced Mini-drives to keep things going during the pandemic, and they have since stuck around.

2021

  • In 2021, we launched the Collective: a place where donors can support menstruators on a monthly basis for as little as $15 per month.

  • Due to growing demand, practicality problems, and the pandemic, we had to say goodbye to purses and switch to period packs.

    • Despite the switch, we remained The Period Purse to honour the distinct story that started our movement.

2022

  • By TPP’s fifth birthday on February 20th, 2022, we had donated over 3 million period products to menstruators in need.

  • In June, we launched our Menstruation Nation App (Apple verison): a period tracker and educational resource designed by youth and for youth, which tracks absolutely no personal data.

  • Our headquarters were established in 2022 when we secured a storage unit at 1460 The Queensway in Etobicoke, which now allows us to accept donations year-round.

  • We closed our Chapters across the country and shifted to our mini drive program to make it easier and more accessible to everyone.

2023

  • Our Android version of our Menstruation Nation App came out in May! It’s free and still doesn’t collect any data.

  • In June, following two years working alongside a First Nations community, we launched the Moon Time Zine to help young people learn about menstruation.

  • As of mid November, The Period Purse has donated over 4.9 million period products.

  • Our work is anchored on three pillars: Outreach, Advocacy and Education.

We are so grateful for everyone who has contributed to our cause over the years. We look forward to keeping up the important work we do until our vision becomes a reality: where menstruation is understood and treated with dignity, and period products are free for all. 

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