Sanitary pads, the history and the shame…

Author: Nancy Saddington

Sanitary pads are the most widely used menstrual products on the market today, but where and when were they invented and why are they called sanitary pads?  

Throughout history, there are many references to how women have dealt with their periods.  Before the commercial manufacture of the pads we know today women used rags made of what was available including papyrus, wool and even rabbit fur to manage their periods.

One of the first and most surprising mentions in history is documented in the story of Hypatia. It is not a story of shame, nor of a weak woman, on the contrary, it is the story of a strong and fearless woman choosing her own path. Hypatia was a mathematician who lived in the 5th Century. She is the first female mathematician to have had her works and life documented. It is recorded that she waved her menstrual rags at undesirable men as a means of shooing them away!!! 

Fast forward to 1890, when the first-ever commercially produced menstrual pads went on sale.  They were called sanitary pads in reference to the fact that they were clean and not old bits of rags that had to be washed, and re-used. However, they were a commercial failure. Women were simply too embarrassed to go to the shops and buy a product that referenced menstruation.

A few decades later French nurses working in World War One hospitals on the battlefields of Europe, realised that the bandages they were using to treat the wounded soldiers were a fantastic way to manage their own bleeding. This relation ultimately led to the first commercially viable period pads being produced by bandage manufacturers!

Image retrieved from Smithsonian

In the end, a marketing campaign encouraging women to ask for pads using a brand name led to mass adoption of disposable period pads. The brand name spared women the shame of having to ask for ‘sanitary pads’ or the need to mention their unmentionable ‘menstruation’.

And mass adoption it truly was! Today disposable menstrual pads are the product of choice for the majority of women with billions used each year. The conversation is now about de-stigmatising menstruation and the adoption of environmentally friendly ethical period products. At Mondays, we encourage an open conversation about periods, discourage usage of the term sanitary pad and focus all our efforts on developing period products that are better for you and better for the planet.

We think it’s the right time to take inspiration from these brave, innovative and decisive women from history by embracing the next step in period product development. So what are you waiting for? Shop for Mondays period pads here.