New this week: Sahayog (India) instructions for making pads with wood ash (1999) - "Silent Purchase" Modess menstrual pad ad (June 1928)

PREVIOUS NEWS | First Page | Newest News | Current News page | Contact the Museum | Menstrual Products Safety | FAQ | DIRECTORY OF ALL TOPICS

Letters to Your MUM

Menstrual pads free some women in India

Dr. Margaret Greene, in the letter below, writes how menstruation restricts women's movement in India, and a partial solution for this:

Dear Harry,

We really enjoyed the trip [to this museum], and greatly appreciated the fact that you let us see things even though you had closed the museum [temporarily, until I find a public location] some time before. I was especially impressed and entertained by the text you had written narrating the exhibit - and struck by the amount of hostility you've faced as a man in putting this museum together.

I promised to send you a little more information about the wood ash sanitary napkin project in Almora, Uttar Pradesh state, India. There, women are completely restricted in their movements during their periods.

They have to stay in the cow shed without changing their clothes for an entire week. [See similar housing in old Hawaii and a note about menstrual seclusion in present-day Suriname. Read also the request of a woman proposing a show on menstruation to the British Broadcasting Corporation, in a letter, below.]

Part of the work of the NGO "Sahayog" has been to make women realize that the blood doesn't come out of their bodies inherently polluted or smelling. They ask women, What does a piece of meat smell like after it has been sitting in the sun for a week?

Then they encourage them to make these sanitary pads that are essentially sifted wood ash wrapped in a cloth. Wood ash is readily available, absorbs odors, and can easily be thrown out into the woods or fields when the pad has been used.

Slowly these women are gaining some control over their mobility through the ability to conceal when exactly they are menstruating. [Read this same objective, and here, in much of Western advertising.]

That way, if a special fair takes place during their period, for example, they can start their seclusion a little earlier and be able to go to the fair in the last days, wearing a sanitary napkin. It isn't easy at all to make women feel freer because are closely supervised by their mothers in law, but Sahayog has made a start.

Their contact information is:

Dr. Abhijit Das and Jashodhara Das Gupta


Prem Kuti, Pokherkhali

Almora 263 601 UP


Warm regards,



Margaret E. Greene, Ph.D.

Center for Health and Gender Equity

6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 910

Takoma Park, MD 20912 USA

Tel: 301-270-1182

In 1994 someone wrote this museum, saying that many women in India cannot use disposable pads because their mothers and mothers-in-law would not allow this departure from tradition. The writer, an American woman at a university in New York, then developed and planned to sell in India underpants designed to hold and conceal disposable pads.

March Menstrual Madness First Annual Empress Festival, 6 March, in Chicago, by the Empress Has Red Clothes!

Because of my finger operation last week I could not publish this information, or update this site - I hope it's not too late!

From the press release:


This began as a collaboration of female artists and writers who have menstruated and used this experience in their work either as inspiration or subject matter. We want to help create menstruation affirmation culture with its own stories, rituals, and language using artistic expression and basic troublemaking [!] techniques. . . .

We think it is appropriate to celebrate women's history month, the coming of spring, the moon, and whatever other stuff we can make up. [I love it, especially making stuff up!]

And this, of course, is one of the points of this Web site:

Menstruation has been described as useless, abnormal, and inconvenient while the positive views of menstruation: a girls' rite of passage, a sign of female health, the celebration of fertility and an acknowledgement of female power tend to get lost in mainstream messages.

Just look at the two New-this-week items, above, to remind you of the place of menstruation in most cultures.

See some artistic expression involving menstruation on this site: visual art (start here), poetry (and funny poetry, by a man), humor, essays. See the directory for more.

Your MUM can't go; could anyone send me some memorabilia for the museum? I'll put it on this site!

Menstrual cups: for and against

One woman mentioned [in a letter to MUM] that she had a tipped uterus and was unable to use the Instead. That's the *same problem I ran into with it. My uterus is tipped completely backwards (25% of women have some degree of a tipped uterus). I absolutely could NOT get the Instead to stay in place, every time I stood up it slipped off my cervix. The 1-800-INSTEAD number wasn't very helpful as the woman I talked to claimed she'd never heard of it being a problem with a tipped uterus.

I got my Keeper a few days ago and I LOVE it! It doesn't matter what position your uterus is in - it works anyway. It was easy to insert, although I had to cut the stem all the way off. I should've left it completely long and tried it that way before cutting it to 1/2 inch like the directions said. And as far as having to get blood on your fingers? I've had three kids and had a lot worse stuff on my fingers than blood :-).

P.S. I adore your Web site. So much information! And from a male, no less!

Mr. Finley,

First and foremost, kudos to you for your site. You are a very open-minded, liberated male, a rare species in the universe.

I am an extremely satisfied Keeper user. I have used mine for over a year now. I have experienced one or two very minor leakage problems, due I think to improper insertion. A tip for women that find insertion painful: put one foot up one the toilet. For some reason, that helps me and is more comfortable than standing with both feet on the floor while inserting. I don't find the Keeper to be particularly messy, but then I don't have any issues with my body either. (I've managed to ignore most of the messages women are bombarded with from the US media and popular culture!) I've pitched the Keeper to my female friends and helped convert my sister into a user. The only time I use tampons now is the times that I'm away from home and forget to grab my Keeper on the way out the door, duh. I heartily encourage all women to try the Keeper.

Thanks for letting me air my two coppers. I've book marked your site and will be returning often. I'm also going to have my husband visit!

Some praise for MUM

I have visited your Web site as a result of doing research for my Women's Reproductive Health Class. I find your site to be very thorough and full of quantitative research. I commend you on your willingness to write about such a topic which women [and men!] find too embarrassing or intimate to discuss.

Thank you!

Mr. Finley,

I wanted to send my regards and congrats on your Web site! My 12-year-old daughter is fast approaching this stage of life and is very curious about the whole process. We learned more from your Web site than anywhere else and with humor the whole thing doesn't appear as daunting to her.

I commend you for starting this Web page and would like to help you in any way to find a permanent home for it.

Many regards

Really enjoyed your site! Your wit and the site entertained me greatly.

Thanks for your time in putting it together!

And some criticism

Last week two e-mailers objected to the humor section in general and to specific jokes, especially one featuring lesbians.

I admit I have a hard time deciding what to put in. I wince at much of the language and situations in the jokes. I'm old - 56 - compared to many of you site visitors, and in MY day no man with class would ever tell a woman a "dirty" story. And decent women wouldn't listen to them (at least from a man; there's a rub).

Times have changed. Here I am creating a Web site about menstruation, for God's sake, for the general public about as dirty a subject as you can imagine (I have heard from my family about this)! And now I have to decide what funny stories to put in it. Dirty stories about a dirty subject. What's worse? The boundaries get blurred.

My point in putting any stories here at all is that this is a museum, and in my view museums accept everything about a subject - especially one dealing with social history, which this museum does. I made a similar decision about accepting some 19th century Italian menstrual pads that have traces of menstrual blood. And I will soon publish photos of art work made with menstrual blood. Yes, it makes me squeamish.

They aren't for everyone, and neither are the jokes, not even for me.

This museum is a learning journey for this old white guy, your, um, MUM. (Gloria Steinem, by the way, trashes white men in her essay on this site, "If Men Could Menstruate." But I published it because it's funny.)

I might have a tin ear for lesbian stories. Although I have put several stories dealing with lesbians and menstruation on the site, I withheld one Jewish and one black story because they struck me as making more of an antisemitic and antiblack point than a menstrual one. I am much less sure of lesbian culture. You'll laugh - maybe - but I was middle aged before I knowingly met a lesbian and just a little younger before I knowingly met a homosexual male.

Ultimately the decisions are mine and I am sorry if I offend anyone. The joke section is the one I am least confidant about because humor can wound awfully; menstruation wounds, too, the body and often the soul - but that's a reason for this site.

I hate to drop the section. I might as well drop this Web site and forget about the museum; far more people have told me they object to them than to the humor.

Is Lydia Pinkham's medicine better than I believed?

As an herbalist, I think you underestimate the medicinal value of Lydia Pinkham's elixir.

It has always contained effective herbal medicines (in fact the FDA [the American Food and Drug Administration] or its precursors required tests as early as the 1920s, if memory serves). The 13-20% of alcohol is not atypical of an herbal tincture. Indeed, an herbal extract with less alcohol is pharmacologically unstable. The alcohol does help disperse the medicine to the tissues better than the pill form, carrying it to the uterine tissues. But the herbs used are powerful medicines in their own right, although the modern formulation is somewhat less effective than that of the 1960s and before.

The original recipe for Lydia Pinkham's Vegetable Compound is as follows:

Unicorn Root (Aletris farinosa L.) 8 oz.

Life Root (Senecio aureus L.) 6 oz.

Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa (L.) Nutt.) 6oz.

Pleurisy Root (Asclepias tuberosa L.) 6 oz.

Fenugreek Seed (Trigonella foenum-graecum L.) 12 oz.

Alcohol (18%) to make 100 pints

This formula is believed to have been developed through reading King's American Dispensatory. J. Burton, in his biography, of Lydia Pinkham, 1949, claims the addition of 8 oz. of False Unicorn (Chamaelirium luteum). I seem to remember that as recently as the 1960s it had Angelica and Cimicifuga, when it was indicated for menstrual cramps as well as menopause. I read an excellent biography of her sometime in the 1970s which documents a number of formula changes over the years [that biography might be "Female Complaints: Lydia Pinkham and the Business of Women's Medicine," by Sarah Stage, Norton, 1979, a great resource about Mrs. Pinkham and the patent medicine industry in the U.S.A.].

The current ingredients are:

Piscidia erthrina (Jamacian dogwood)

Asclepias tuberosa (Pleurisy root)


Taraxacum officinale

Gentiana lutea

Leonarus cardiacus

Ferrous lactate

D-Alpha tocopherol

Ascorbic acid

Ethyl alcohol (13%)

It tastes strongly of the ferrous lactate and lacks the old punch, and is only suggested as a menopause formula. It is currently distributed by NUMARK Laboratories, of Edison, New Jersey, U.S.A.

Karen Vaughan

I must mention a few things

Read the essay in the science section of the Tuesday, 23 February New York Times, "In the History of Gynecology, a Surprising Chapter," by Pulitzer Prize winner Natalie Angier.

She interviews the author of a book just published by Johns Hopkins Press, The Technology of Orgasm: "Hysteria," the Vibrator, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction that chronicles one treatment of hysteria: masturbation, not by the women themselves, but by physicians! It's mind boggling. [Read some remarkable views on male masturbation by Dr. Pierce, of patent medicine fame.]

Listen to what the author, Rachel P. Maines, says in the preface to the book:

At the seminar I presented at the Bakken [Library and Museum of Electricity in Life, in Minneapolis, Minnesota], I saw for the first time the contrast between those who listen eagerly to my results, laughing at the inescapably humorous aspects [of her research on vibrators], and those whose discomfort with the topic is expressed in a glazed look. Since then I have had numerous opportunities to observe these effects in audiences large and small. Groups consisting of women only simply laugh and ask questions. In mixed groups the women look uncomfortable and ask little, though they laugh just the same; they are aware that it is a major breach of etiquette to mention in mixed company the relative inefficiency of penetration as a meaning of producing female orgasm. The men are divided into laughter and blank stares: the former, I gather, are those for whom my research confirms that women are as sexual as they had always hoped, and the latter are those for whom it confirms that women are as sexual as they had always feared.

. . . .

[I]t was clear to me that publishing my suspicions about the vibrator would torpedo my [academic] career; surely no one would ever take me seriously as a scholar if I continued this line of research. On the other hand, nobody was doing it [a theme of her life since childhood, she writes; she wrote academically on needlework when nobody had even considered it because, she thinks, it was a woman's concern].

There's much more just in the preface!

As the great Austrian writer Stefan Zweig once wrote to friend about his controversial book criticizing John Calvin's burning of a theological opponent alive at the stake, Man muß sich für eine gute Sache eben beleidigen lassen. "It's precisely for a just cause that one must be willing to be insulted."

Read another essay by Natalie Angier - my favorite science writer - in the 21 February issue of the New York Times magazine that concerns ideas about the origins of marriage and sexual roles of men and women; Men, Women, Sex and Darwin. (It's adapted from her book Woman: An Intimate Geography, to be published in April).

One point Angier makes is that society has consistently suppressed women's sexuality; one question is, Why? Read the vibrator book, above, to see this suppression, especially in Victorian society.

And I leave with one non-menstrual, non-woman thing: last week The New York Times (Again! What a paper!) reported the death of the American humor and language writer Willard Espy. No, I hadn't heard of him either. But the obituary writer, Robert McG. Thomas Jr., wrote that "It wasn't so much that he had a way with words as that words had their way with him . . . ."

The BBC wants to hear from you if your cycle is a blessing, makes you creative, if you have experience with menstrual seclusion, or know about current research !

Here's your chance to say how you feel about menstruation!

Please, may I post a letter on your letter page?

I'm researching a documentary for the BBC [British Broadcasting Corporation] about menstruation - myths and facts and blessing or curse.

I have much information about the curse and predjudice but I am finding scant information about the blessing! I was thrilled to find medical information linking surgery for breast cancer and the menstrual cycle and the New Scientist report about differing medication levels required during the 28-day cycle, and the research about eating requirements differing during the cycle etc., but I want to hear from women who have evidence of the cycle as a blessing, for example, artists, writers, etc., who are at their most creative whilst menstruating.

I also want to meet women who practice menstrual seclusion, as with menstrual huts of the past [and of the present; women still use menstrual huts].

And anything and everything to do with research into menstruation.

Next week I am interviewing Mr Peter Redgrove and Penelope Shuttle who wrote the first book on menstruation that offered positive information, The Wise Wound, 1978. I am very excited about asking many questions resulting from the book. If you have any questions for them pertaining to the book or their second book, Alchemy for Women, about the dream cycle corresponding to the menstrual cycle, I would be delighted to forward them to them on your behalf. They are not on the net so any questions would have to have addresses!

Thank you so much for this glorious Web site [many thanks to you for saying that!] and I look forward to hearing from visitors to your site.

Ali Kedge. or

Help Wanted: This Museum Needs a Public Official For Its Board of Directors

Your MUM is doing the paper work necessary to become eligible to receive support from foundations as a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. To achieve this status, it helps to have a American public official - an elected or appointed official of the government, federal, state or local - on its board of directors.

What public official out there will support a museum for the worldwide culture of women's health and menstruation?

Read about my ideas for the museum. What are yours?

Eventually I would also like to entice people experienced in the law, finances and fund raising to the board.

Any suggestions?

Do You Have Irregular Menses?

If so, you may have polycystic ovary syndrome [and here's a support association for it].

Jane Newman, Clinical Research Coordinator at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard University School of Medicine, asked me to tell you that

Irregular menses identify women at high risk for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which exists in 6-10% of women of reproductive age. PCOS is a major cause of infertility and is linked to diabetes.

Learn more about current research on PCOS at Brigham and Women's Hospital, the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania State University - or contact Jane Newman.

If you have fewer than six periods a year, you may be eligible to participate in the study!

See more medical and scientific information about menstruation.

It's Too Late to Call Your Congressman About the Proposed Tampon Safety and Research Act! Congress Had More Important ;-) Things To Do! Here's How and Why for Next Time.

New this week: Sahayog (India) instructions for making pads with wood ash (1999) - "Silent Purchase" Modess menstrual pad ad (June 1928)

PREVIOUS NEWS | First Page | Newest News | Current News page | Contact the Museum | Menstrual Products Safety | FAQ | DIRECTORY OF ALL TOPICS

Take a short tour of MUM! (and on Web video!) - FAQ - Future of this museum - Tampon Safety Act - Contact the actual museum - Board of Directors - Norwegian menstruation exhibit - The media and the MUM - Menstrual odor - Prof. Mack C. Padd: Fat Cat - The science and medicine of menstruation - Early tampons - Books about menstruation - Menstrual cups: history, comments - Religion and menstruation: A discussion - Safety of menstrual products (asbestos, dioxin, toxic shock syndrome, viscose rayon) - A Note from Germany/Neues aus Deutschland und Europa - Letters - Links

© 1999 Harry Finley. It is illegal to reproduce or distribute work on this Web site in any manner or medium without written permission of the author. Please report suspected violations to