This was a partial version of the museum newsletter (Catamenia means menstruation in medicalese), which is no longer produced.

  click here for Growing Up and Liking It: A Primer of Period Pedagogy, 1868 - 1996, by Lynn Peril

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(letter to the museum)

Dear Harry [Finley, director of MUM],

Your museum is truly unique and a long overdue collection of information on what has often been a very exploited subject. As the historical material of your museum well illustrates - I have visited MUM - there has always been a need for unquestioned confidence in one's "feminine protection." It's a point that has not been lost on the manufacturers of such products. However, their product technology has sometimes lagged far behind their advertising skills. Your recent series on the development of Kotex advertising is an outstanding example of this.

As a young girl, I became increasingly curious about about the whole process of becoming a woman. However, the real concern was about my continuing need for "feminine protection." I'd already heard horror stories about having a monthly "accident" and how there was simply nothing more humiliating!

I can still remember the physical education class we had in school about that "time of the month." I was especially interested when out teacher went on to explain about the need for protection and included a mannequin similar to the ones you have at the museum. It showed us how to wear a sanitary napkin and belt. She went on tell us that there were real differences in napkins that could make a big difference in the all-important feeling of continuing confidence that was necessary, especially if changing was delayed. It was especially important to know that one's napkin could be be trusted even though it might not be changed right on schedule.

And she emphasized that especially with white gym shorts she always had to feel sure of her "feminine protection." Except in an absolute emergency, Kotex sanitary napkins were the only kind she ever wore. By comparison, most other napkins were nothing more than thick, cottony pads! Kotex was made in a very special way to be exceptionally absorbent and was by far the most trustworthy. And even with a Modess machine in the teachers' lounge, most teachers insisted on using only Kotex. My teacher kept a supply of them in her office, especially the even more absorbent super size, which gave an added feeling of confidence on the heaviest days.

Now I began to read the many Kotex ads with a special interest. I believed that I too would never wear any other brand. Imagine my distress when "that time" came and mother simply presented me with one of her sanitary belts and one of her department store brand napkins. As my periods were still light, that worked OK - they were after all good enough for her. But you can be sure that I always felt apprehensive and changed them very often, just to be sure. What's more, I didn't feel as "feminine" and confident of my protection as the girls pictured in the Kotex ads.

A few years later I went on a date at a time when I didn't know how often I would have to change my napkin. I needed complete confidence in my sanitary protection. All the concerns and assurances of the many Kotex ads seemed more real and needed than ever. Yes, I was about ready to buy my first box of Kotex!

Feminine protection products are supposedly unpleasant and unfeminine, but I couldn't have been more delighted with my new napkins! Just as the ads said, their "flat, pressed ends" were smooth compared to the my usual napkins with the bumps and bulges of the thick, stubby ends. And as promised, they kept their shape and didn't twist and bunch up. I was thankful that the advertised "Safety Shield" worked as promised. The ads had done their job, as apparently they had for most other women.

Of course I took Kotex pads and belts with me to college. I carefully followed the ads to learn of improvements since I had had a few accidents. My roommate used them too, but the restrooms had only Modess machines, which we would use only in emergencies. Kotex was the only pad we felt comfortable with.

By my second year in college my periods were heavier, and I switched to Super Kotex. Others may have found them too big, but I felt they were the most absorbent, most protective and reassuring of all pads.

But words can't describe how embarrassed I was when I bled through my dress at a party while using the supers. Talking with my new roommate - who I thought used tampons - I learned that she used Modess. She said that never would have happened with her pad. And the fact that she was a nursing student and wore a white uniform gave weight to her belief.

She too had used Kotex because of the ads, but switched to Modess after too many accidents. She showed me the "blue moisture-proof shield" covering the bottom and sides of the Modess, places where a Kotex could bleed through. She asked me for a Kotex, which she took apart. It was just a cottony pad which didn't even extend the whole length of the napkin, and had no protective shield completely covering the bottom and sides. And the "Safety Shield" could slide completely out of place, offering no protection at all. All those Kotex ads had fooled me!

And the Modess was better than Kotex in absorbing blood and it was softer, in spite of the advertising pitch. She showed me how Modess was folded into multiple absorbent layers with no papery layers to spread the fluid over the surface and to the sides. The sides were softer and comfortably rounded because of the folding.

But the biggest difference was the patented "inner channels" to ensure the full absorbent capacity of the napkin rather than absorbing in just one spot, something the Kotex did not have. And we couldn't find the vaunted "Safety Shield" in the Kotex, although the Modess had something approaching that where it was most needed. There were big differences, and I was impressed!

So I willingly tried a Modess with the belt with a "V" suspension, which held the pad more securely and comfortably. And I even wore the pad way past the point where I would have soaked through my Kotex - with no problem. The ads were wrong and Modess was right.

I realized that about everything about a Modess was more feminine, more comfortable and definitely preferable to a Kotex in virtually every way. And I found that most college girls preferred Modess, in spite of the claims of Kotex.

I hope that my experiences will give others a more open mind and a greater interest in comparing the claims of the many products available. Maybe your museum can be the forum for others to share such experiences and information for all our benefit.

[name withheld at writer's request]

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