Medieval ladies were not seen as sorcery, but rather something to be feared. Their periods were met with religious shame and horror. They had to take precaution to mask the fact that they were bleeding from public view. British public historian Greg Jenner wrote on his blog:
“In medieval Europe they carried nosegays of sweet-smelling herbs around their necks and waists, hoping it would neutralize the odor of blood, and they might try to stem a heavy flow with such medicines as powdered toad. However, pain relief was not readily permitted by the Church: God apparently wanted each cramp to be a reminder of Eve’s Original Sin.
Not only did they have to feel every last cramp, they still didn’t have a good way to deal with their flows. Aside from using rags on occasion, many medieval European women simply bled into their clothes, according to Dr. Sara Read. When they did create makeshift pads, cotton was the preferred material because it absorbs fluids better than the alternative, wool. Wool is super uncomfortable and doesn’t absorb well. Medieval ladies then had to devise ways to keep the pad in place since underwear wasn’t even a thing yet. This is also the origin of the term “on the rag” so we have Medieval times for thank for that one.
In the late 19th century, a German doctor finally figured out that bleeding all over your clothes and sitting in it is gross. A German doctor wrote in the book Health in the House:
It is completely disgusting to bleed into your chemise, and wearing that same chemise for four to eight days can cause infections.
Apparently, it took a man to tell the world that this was uncomfortable and unsanitary. This brought us the sanitary belt, which is essentially re-usable pads attached to suspenders. Women used these from the late 1800s until the 1920s. Around WWI, Kotex launched its first products, allowing women to finally dispose of their period blood. The first tampon was invented in 1929 by Dr. Earle Haas, but they didn’t gain much popularity until the 40s. The modern pad (with adhesive strips) finally replaced menstrual belts in the 70s.
These days, we have pads, tampons, Diva Cups and Thinx underwear to choose from to take care of our “time of the month.” It definitely wasn’t always this easy to get access to sanitary options for your period. I don’t know about you, but I definitely feel #blessed to have all the options we have now.