Museum of Menstruation, Oh My!

In July, I did a post about the Disney film, Understanding Menstruation.

Someone, I think it was Patti, mentioned the “thing we used to wear.” It was a sanitary belt, although to me, the whole concept never seemed that sanitary. The one above is dated about 1945. When I searched “sanitary belts,” it popped up, along with a lot of other pictures that kind of turned my early morning stomach (from other sites).

But the belt above led me to the amazing site of the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.  I corresponded with the museum’s curator, Harry Finley, and he kindly gave me permission to post the picture above.

Turns out the museum is in Harry’s home, but he’s now closed it to the public because the stress of running the museum and working full time wore down his health.  Several institutions have offered to house the collection, most likely only making it available to researchers/scholars. Harry wants the collection on display, where everyone can see and study it.

I asked Harry how he got started collecting items relating to periods. He’s what he wrote:

After I got the best job of my life, art director of a small magazine in Frankfurt, Germany, I bought magazines from all over the world to get ideas for laying our magazine out. I saw zillions of ads, among them ads for menstrual hygiene, which differ across country lines. It’s a taboo or semi-taboo subject, which made it more interesting. So I collected many ads as well as ads for everything else and started researching the companies involved.

Back in the U.S., when a job got awfully boring, I thought about opening a museum in my house – and did. The rest was a roller coaster ride. I was criticized by liberals and conservatives but also supported by liberals and conservatives. Quite an experience.

Harry, in the next email, added:

If you want, write that I totally believe a museum would attract many people, and I would hope, families. I experienced the discussions in the museum in my house, and there’s no reason to think many visitors would be any less shy in hashing things out with strangers, especially with something like a real menstrual hut from Africa or South America present; they’re still used there.

You could also add that I estimate the chances of a museum getting funded are tiny, microscopic. Men have told me in person or through e-mail that the government had better not use THEIR tax money! It’s hard enough to defend the National Gallery of Art, my second home.

Here’s an article written by a visitor to the museum before it closed:

Do check out the museum’s site.  Incredible information here.

Thanks, Harry, for collecting these pieces of women’s period history. I hope you find a place for your collection, so we can visit.

In fact, if you do, we’ll come to the ribbon cutting! No doubt that ribbon will be red.

14 thoughts on “Museum of Menstruation, Oh My!”

  1. I love quirky museums but I admit this one raised my eyebrows a bit. Not b/c it’s a taboo idea for a museum but b/c it’s founder is a bachelor. Now that’s really different! But I’d be interested in visiting. There were times pre-menopause when I wondered how ladies in earlier ages handled their periods. I might find the answer if the museum re-opens!


  2. 😀 Thanks for the shout out, Barbara! And thanks for finding this crazy museum and website. I hope Harry succeeds in getting a museum in a permanent place. A Museum of Women’s Health would be awesome. I’m fascinated by how menstruation is handled so differently depending on what part of the world you’re in. Such bizarre things for such a plain old bodily function. I read the article about Harry and then scrolled around the website… Interesting guy and lots of weird stuff. Loved the ‘white’ ads, especially the German ad with the lady in white slacks sitting with her legs apart so you can get a glance at her perfectly white crotch on her pants. Yikes. I guess subtlety wasn’t important?? tee hee! Thanks again, Barbara. It was great fun!


  3. Oh gosh i hated those belts!!! I still can’t believe we used them. For anyone interested in a good book about women of another era/ancient times and how they dealt with menstruation read ” The Red Tent” by Anita Diamant. Excellent book on many levels.


  4. Why did it take so long for someone to think; “Tape the pad to your underpants.” I mean it had to take more designing and planning to come up with that belt contraption than if the napkin manufacturers would have just stuck some tape on there. Can you imagine the brainstorming session on designing that belt? Doesn’t make sense, now. 🙂


  5. oh my word, i had one in middle school and when i was in glass two girls saw it peeking up from my jeans. They had a good laugh, but then had pity on this sixth grade girl and informed me they made kotex with sticky tape. Needless to say I went home threw out that old belt and had my Mother take me up to the drug store, havent thought of this in ages.


  6. Luckily I just missed out on those, although when I got my first period I had to use one of mums looped towels fastened to my knickers with a safety pin, until she could buy me some of the more modern stick-on ones (her belt was too loose for my skinny teenage body!).


  7. I’ll have to show this photo to my 15 y.o. granddaughter. I’m sure she will think it’s gross and/or stupid and/or terribly old-fashion.


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