See nineteenth-century Norwegian washable pads (which look much warmer than the Italian one above!) - See contemporary washable pads - Women sometimes wore washable pads with a sanitary apron


CONTRIBUTE to Humor, Words and expressions about menstruation and Would you stop menstruating if you could?
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Leer la versión en español de los siguientes temas: Anticoncepción y religión, Breve reseña - Olor - Religión y menstruación - Seguridad de productos para la menstruación.

Italian washable menstrual pad, probably from the 1890s

In 1998 an American woman living in a villa in Italy e-mailed me, saying she and her hostess, a countess, had opened a trunk in the laundry building next to the main house and found the clothing of a turn-of-the-century ancestor of the count, her husband.

Among the clothing of this countess was a bundle of what you see below, menstrual pads, folded length-wise into thirds (see the picture below left) and wrapped with a ribbon. Did I want them?

MUMa mia! Do Italians eat pasta?

She mailed five of the washable cotton pads, each measuring 24.5 x 11 inches (ca. 61 x 28 cm.). Terry cloth comprises about 14 inches (ca. 35.5 cm.) of the interior of each pad, which show stains, probably from menstrual blood. The countess's initials are sewn onto a corner of each pad (see the indented comments below).

The size of the pads may surprise you, but it shouldn't. The first Kotex pad - read the ad describing it - in 1921, measured 22 inches (ca. 56 cm.) long, and the filler was 3.5 inches (ca. 9 cm.) wide, just about what the pad below measures when folded into thirds, which is probably the way the countess wore it. Women wear smaller pads today because they are much more absorbent and better designed.

And look at the size of the "carrier" on a sanitary apron!

In 2008, a staff member of a Canadian museum generously wrote me:

I have a couple of extra things to add to your description, which I recently learned from a local Italian textile specialist. Apparently Italian textiles were often sold in lengths. You could buy a bolt of fabric that was the right width for hand towels, cloths, sanitary napkins, table runners, etc. The person who purchased the length of fabric could then hem each piece according to their needs and finish the edges with individual embroidery, tassels, etc. With regards to the hand embroidered initials on the sanitary napkins, apparently many families in Italy relied on communal village laundries. All clothing and linens were embroidered with initials so that it was possible to know who each garment belonged to when being returned, clean, from the laundry.

I thank the countess and the American woman for their desire to preserve an artifact of women's history, a sorely neglected subject, and enable people around the world to see it.

And I thank the countess who wore these pads, who would probably be mortified to learn strangers were looking at them, but who might not be disappointed to know that the pads were helping people come to terms with their past - and present.

The whole pad measures 24.5 x 11 inches (ca. 61 x 28 cm). Here we see about 2/3 of the 24.5" side. Folded into thirds, as shown, is perhaps the way the countess wore it, probably pinned to a belt around her waist. Worn this way, the pad approximated the first Kotex pad (1921) in size. Menstrual blood created the brown stains.
Sewn on the corner of each pad are the owner's initials. You are looking at a complete short side of the pad, 11 inches (ca. 28 cm.) high.
See nineteenth-century Norwegian washable pads (which look much warmer than the Italian one above!) -
See contemporary washable pads - Women sometimes wore washable pads with a sanitary apron

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