Earlier this year, the Schlesinger Library acquired a variety of menstruation education pamphlets ranging in date from 1905 to 1988, with the majority published from the 1940s to the 1960s. Some of the pamphlets were produced by the US Public Health Service and distributed through local health departments. The bulk of the pamphlets were produced and distributed by the manufacturers of menstrual hygiene products such as the Kimberly-Clark Corporation (through their subsidiary company International Cellucotton Products Company until the mid-1950s), the makers of Kotex, and the Personal Products Company (a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson), the makers of Modess.
These pamphlets helped facilitate mother-daughter talks about menstruation and helped girls educate themselves while promoting products and creating brand recognition for the manufacturers. Many of the ones targeted toward younger girls completely separated menstruation education from sex education, which likely made parents more comfortable talking about the subject with their preteen daughters. Some of the pamphlets start with an opening letter to the mother preparing her for the upcoming talk or with a friendly note to the girl herself providing a warm introduction into the world of menstruation. The pamphlets could sometimes be found in the feminine product box, or there would be a mail-in coupon included with the instructions or with an advertisement in a magazine. Many were ordered and handed out by schools. The success of Kimberly-Clark’s educational marketing led them to commission Disney to produce the animated film The Story of Menstruation in 1946 which was freely distributed to high schools across the country along with accompanying pamphlets titled Very Personally Yours.
The language, content, and style of the pamphlets changed over the years. The library’s different versions of the same pamphlets provide insight into the changes in cultural attitudes toward menstruation and feminine hygiene, as well as the way it was communicated. Marjorie May’s Twelfth Birthday was Kimberly-Clark’s first advertising of Kotex aimed at adolescent girls. Distributed in 1932, it portrayed a fictional conversation between a cordial mother and her doting daughter. In this version of the pamphlet the use of the word “purification” is preferred to “menstruation,” so much so that any time “menstruation” is used it is qualified with “purification.” In the 1935 version of the pamphlet, the word “purification” has been dropped, and “menstruation” and even “period” are used exclusively. From the 1940s on, the pamphlets generally had more relaxed and modern language and factual information and may have included exercises to relieve cramps, medical diagrams, and more detailed hygiene instructions. At the end of almost every pamphlet the various products available from each company are featured, sometimes with detailed instructions on their use.
If interested in further exploring the history of menstruation education and feminine hygiene products after reading these pamphlets, both Under Wraps: A History of Menstrual Hygiene Technology by Sharra L. Vostral and The Modern Period: Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America by Lara Freidenfelds are available for research at the library.