See a roughly contemporary pad, Society, and a "silent purchase" ad for Modess, 1928.
Other Modess ads: 1931,"Modess . . . . because" ads, the French Modess, and the German "Freedom" (Kimberly-Clark) for teens.
See a prototype of the first Kotex ad.
CONTRIBUTE to Humor, Words and expressions about menstruation and Would you stop menstruating if you could?
Some MUM site links:

MUM address & What does MUM mean? |
Email the museum |
Privacy on this site |
Who runs this museum?? |
Amazing women! |
Art of menstruation |
Artists (non-menstrual) |
Asbestos |
Belts |
Bidets |
Founder bio |
Bly, Nellie |
MUM board |
Books: menstruation and menopause (and reviews) |
Cats |
Company booklets for girls (mostly) directory |
Contraception and religion |
Costumes |
Menstrual cups |
Cup usage |
Dispensers |
Douches, pain, sprays |
Essay directory |
Extraction |
Facts-of-life booklets for girls |
Famous women in menstrual hygiene ads |
Founder/director biography |
Gynecological topics by Dr. Soucasaux |
Humor |
Huts |
Links |
Masturbation |
Media coverage of MUM |
Menarche booklets for girls and parents |
Miscellaneous |
Museum future |
Norwegian menstruation exhibit |
Odor |
Olor |
Pad directory |
Patent medicine |
Poetry directory |
Products, some current |
Puberty booklets for girls and parents|
Religion |
Religión y menstruación |
Your remedies for menstrual discomfort |
Menstrual products safety |
Seguridad de productos para la menstruación |
Science |
Shame |
Slapping, menstrual |
Sponges |
Synchrony |
Tampon directory |
Early tampons |
Teen ads directory |
Tour of the former museum (video) |
Underpants & panties directory |
Videos, films directory |
Words and expressions about menstruation |
Would you stop menstruating if you could? |
What did women do about menstruation in the past? |
Washable pads |
Read 10 years (1996-2006) of articles and Letters to Your MUM on this site.
Leer la versión en español de los siguientes temas: Anticoncepción y religión, Breve reseña - Olor - Religión y menstruación - Seguridad de productos para la menstruación.


The perfect menstrual pad 2 (1 2a 3 4 4a 5):
A college student designs her perfect one, and how Smith College students behave

"Report of Gilbreth, Inc.," to the Johnson & Johnson Company, 1 January 1927, about how to improve
the company's menstrual products, especially with regard to competition with Kotex pads

Gilbreth writes of the response of a Smith College student who wrote about her dream pad.

"College Girl" (see the column at right) wanted the popular artist John Held, Jr., to illustrate her INVISOS pad with "a typical college girl . . . in . . . a close-fitting party dress whirling around at a dance. The John Held variety of illustration would be recommended." Held painted a cover (a section is above) for the humor magazine Life, 18 February 1926, about a year before the Gilbreth report appeared, and maybe at the time "College Girl" invented her dream pad. 

Her "College Girl" invented the "INVISOS" - invisible, of course, under tight clothing, a great concern of the women interviewed (see the column to the left).

Most pads of the day were much too big for students' clothing - Kotex, Curads and Venus #5 were 3 feet or more long, tab end to tab end (almost a meter), the absorbent filler being 2 feet long in the Modess (about 61 cm).

And many students and business women shortened the front tabs holding the pad to the belt - the back one had farther to go (see why and see one in place) - and pushed around the pad filler to fit it better. Square ends on the filler rubbed the skin; many women cut them round with scissors. Some women used petroleum jelly to coat the edges of pads having coarse gauze to reduce chafing.

The student describes her INVISOS:

"This dainty package contains twelve napkins of a new size so that one may feel perfectly safe and comfortable while wearing them and yet be unhampered. The day of the bungling, home made variety is past. The modern girl cannot be bothered by anything cumbersome. . . .
"INVISOS are shaped to meet your needs, offer you complete security and a knowledge that you are perfectly well-groomed and neat regardless of your dress, activity, or company.
"The picture accompanying this should illustrate a typical college girl . . . in . . . a close-fitting party dress whirling around at a dance. The John Held variety of illustration would be recommended." (See the illustration and caption at left.)

Bonus just for you: in this flapper era a ponzi scheme  (according to the New York Times) arose in 1922 called the Shifters, which involved flapper-age people - young, that is - and had its own vocabulary; a Shifter would call the dress of the dancing flapper at left a knee duster. 

Students at Smith College responded most, by far (at least 436 filled out questionnaires)

Smith students (Smith College, where poet Sylvia Plath studied almost three decades later, is in Northampton, Massachusetts) were all female, and they chose Kotex over the others (as Gilbreth says students also did at the University of California and Johns Hopkins University), mainly because it was

well advertised (Kotex marketed its pads with amazing gimmicks at this time, including store-window-decoration contests with big prizes) and because of its

"average" size, which seems to contradict what the author put in her tables (some figures, above); but the girls could and did open up the Kotex gauze and push the filler around to make themselves more comfortable.

It was availability, however, the survey found to be the most important factor in women's buying pads. If it was there, they would buy it. And Kotex was the most available.

Kotex ads, as I discovered, predominate in magazines of the mid 1920s, and Gilbreth comments that the girls' college rooms were strewn with magazines, which they examined very critically, especially ads directed at them. (Kotex aimed this ad right at college girls.)

Even though the boxes were always wrapped with paper to conceal them when they bought them - children of druggists who visited the physical museum MUM told me that as kids they helped their parents wrap them - the size and shape were so well known that "anyone carrying a box comes in for much humor and taunting and this is accordingly not a pleasant feature of the napkin." (Continued below the pictures.)


Picture below: This improved box is from a post-Gilbreth report ad. There is little writing, and at least one side is blank, letting women store it with that side showing, making it supposedly anonymous. Note that both Kotex and Modess used crosses; other brands did too. 

Gilbreth found that companies printed too many words on the boxes and they were usually too large, which could give them away as menstrual products.
Not one respondent kept empty boxes of menstrual pads.
"Hell, no!" replied one girl when asked if she did.
Another wrote ironically, "I use them to send Christmas presents."
The girls' favorite "box" was for Curads (below, left, and see ad, 1920), which was no box at all, but a roll of connected pads that got smaller as they used them and finally disappeared.

The disposable pad Curads, left, came in a roll, making it the respondents' favorite "box," because it wasn't one. (From an ad in the Sears, Roebuck catalog, fall 1921)

The girls - Gilbreth often uses this word - didn't care about disposability at Smith, normally a huge problem for Kotex, which advertised them as flushable and stuck instructions into each box about how to do this. But few women bothered to take out the filling, rip it in half, tear the gauze covering apart, and then soak the filling in the toilet before flushing the parts, as directed; who would? (See more supposedly flushable pads.)

One student reported the humiliation of stopping up the toilet of the family of her boyfriend with a Kotex pad after a football game. She was eating dinner with the family when the father noticed a stain forming on the ceiling and had to run upstairs to investigate, finally calling a plumber, a story similar to those in columns of "My Most Embarrassing Moment" in women's and girls' magazines today.

When they visited boys' colleges for social events,

"[t]hen, if ever, . . . [Smith girls] would dispose of Kotex down the toilets. But knowing that this is not successful they are forced to wrap them and conceal them until they can leave the houseparty. As a result many are forgotten, and there is embarrassment for both the men and the women."

By the way, the author reported that the head nurse, Miss Harris, in the dispensary of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, who decided which pads and machines the 7,000 "girls" in her company should use - they used 4,500 pads a month dispensed only through machines - chose the machine [and its associated pad, the Hygienic fiber pad] that would withstand slugs - fake coins - and damage caused by the women using paper cutters and similar things to push down the releases on the machines. That eliminated Kotex and its machines, which couldn't take it. (See some early vending machines and a 1920s ad for the early Kotex dispenser - also 1930s Modess and Kotex pads for vending machines.)

Miss Harris also found Kotex unsatisfactory in other ways:

"No girl is taken in to the employ of the company who has any menstrual trouble [!], but if trouble develops after the girl comes in, they find the cause and remedy it [!!]. In this way they learned that Kotex was irritating to the skin. . . . [F]ew of the girls would read the complete instructions [for disposing of it], and fewer would take the time to follow them. They had a great deal of trouble with plumbing [because of Kotex]."

The Smith students preferred to buy from a woman clerk, which meant they didn't patronize the "College Drug Store" and local shops but made a "weary trip" to a department store. Kotex solved this problem in some stores where customers picked boxes from the tops of counters, putting money into a coin box.

NEXT: (names and colors)
Gilbreth Report: 1 (introduction) 2a (names and colors) 3 (belts & accessories) 4 (conclusions & recommendations) 4a (a perfect pad?) 5 (last recommendation)

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