Menstruation has been a private and, until the recent advent of explicit television commercials, almost unmentionable subject. It is therefore not surprising that the artefacts of menstruation are not well represented in Australian museum collections, even though they are an intrinsic part of women's lives. When cupboards are cleared out or when the effects of elderly relatives are being sorted through, personal items like these are usually amongst the first things to be thrown away.
Before manufactured sanitary napkins became available and affordable, women made their own by sewing or folding absorbent cloth into thick pads. They attached them to some sort of belt with loops, pins or clasps. The napkins would be washed and re-used many times. Sometimes they were made from purpose-bought fabric, but often women would cut up old and worn towels, nappies, sheets or pillow cases.
The Powerhouse Museum has a small but growing collection of items relating to menstruation. It includes handmade products like this sanitary napkin, sanitary pads, home-made washable sanitary towels, advertising material, and advice booklets for girls.
Written by Erika Dicker
Assistant Curator, 2007.