top of page

Unveiling the Secrets: The Surprising Origins of Female Natural Care

By Octavia 5/12/2024

Part 1

How did we go from Rags to Riches? Before the advent of commercial feminine hygiene products, women used pieces of cloth (“rags” as my grandmother would say) to absorb menstrual fluids. They then threw away or washed and reused these cloths. 

Although Johnson & Johnson marketed a disposable sanitary napkin in 1896, it met with limited acceptance. However, surgical dressings developed during the First World War spurred innovation in commercial sanitary napkin designs, including products by Sfag-Na-Kins and Kotex. In the late 1920s, Johnson & Johnson wanted to better compete in the new sanitary products market. Their pad, Modess, was the company’s answer to the first successful pad, Kimberly-Clark’s popular Kotex. The company asked Lillian Moller Gilbreth, the real-life efficiency expert best known as the mother from the book, and then movie, Cheaper by the Dozen. Gilbreth, a psychologist and engineer, ran a management consulting and industrial engineering firm called Gilbreth, Incorporated.

 Johnson and Johnson asked the firm to analyze market and consumer data related to menstrual products and the use of sanitary napkins. Gilbreth and her team interviewed and reviewed questionnaires from thousands of women across the nation for the study, including college students, high schoolers, and businesswomen. Today, the 1927 study itself is a critical primary source on menstruation.

The study paints a fascinating picture of a bygone era. At the time, women tended to make their own menstrual products. Gilbreth noted that women usually made their own while living at home, only branching out into commercial products once they went to college or started working.

The report contains details of the types of commercial pads available in the late 1920s. All had their downsides. Women complained that the washable “Mi Ladi Dainti” was too wide, and they hated the idea of laundering it. “May Kits” required women to actually construct the pads themselves with cheap gauze and paper filling that fell apart with use. And Kotex, the first commercially available pad, was decried as “too large, too long, too thick, and too stiff.”

Tampons, powders, douches, feminine sprays, and other similar products help us avoid personal or public awareness (shame) of a women’s menstruation. Advertisements for these products reassure women that no one will know that they are menstruating, that they are clean and inoffensive, and that they are free to live normally.  

Despite our hesitance to focus on them, feminine hygiene products play a huge part in the daily health, well-being, and financial expenditures of American women. The global feminine hygiene industry is estimated to be worth $15 billion and growing. Many women see these products not as a mere convenience, but as a necessity for performing their professional, social, and familial responsibilities. Yet, in the past few decades, concerns about the safety of feminine hygiene products, their effect on the environment, and the prohibitive cost or inaccessibility of the products for poorer women have emerged. These concerns have driven innovation within the feminine hygiene product market.

As we get more into our research of sanitary pads and the harmful effects they may have to our health we will delve deeper into it in parts.

The information contained on our website are for informational purposes only.

Bibliography ~ see the Bibliography Section for a full list of the references used in the making if this Object Group.

By: Vern L. Bullough

Signs, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Spring, 1985), pp. 615-627

The University of Chicago Press

By: Vern L. Bullough

Signs, Vol. 10, No. 3 (Spring, 1985), pp. 615-627

The University of Chicago Press

Freidenfelds, Lara. The Modern Period: Menstruation in Twentieth-century America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009.

Johnson, Emma. “Can These Panties Disrupt a 15 Billion Feminine Hygiene Market?” Forbes. Accessed May 6, 2016.

Stalheim, T., S. Ballance, B. E. Christensen, and P. E. Granum. “Sphagnan – a Pectin-like Polymer Isolated from Sphagnum Moss Can Inhibit the Growth of Some Typical Food Spoilage and Food Poisoning Bacteria by Lowering the pH.” Journal of Applied Microbiology 106, no. 3 (March 1, 2009): 967–76. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2672.2008.04057.x.

Vostral, Sharra L. “Rely and Toxic Shock Syndrome: A Technological Health Crisis.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 84, no. 4 (December 2011): 447–59.

Vostral, Sharra L. Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2008.


1 view0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page