These Historical Women Weren't Afraid To Talk Periods

It’s news to no-one that periods, even today, are kind of taboo. Most women bleed from their vaginas every month and apparently this thought is just ‘too much’ for some people. The people who, let’s be frank, really need to just get over it.

Pink Parcel started with this issue in mind. Historically, periods have been – and to a lesser degree, still are – invisible in culture and society. And so, we wanted to push back, affirm that periods are normal, and that talking about them should be, too.

Fortunately for us (and women worldwide), we didn’t have to start from scratch. Instead, we built on the contributions of some incredible women from all over the world. Women like Mary Putnam Jacobi, Judith Esser-Mittag and Su Hardy, who pioneered period progression at a time when their voices were silenced and ‘provocative’ actions deemed as punishable.

Below, we remember some of the women who weren’t afraid to talk about periods, even when the rest of society was. They are to thank for the continued conversations we’re having today.

Mary Putnam Jacobi

The woman who defended our competence

Before the 19th century, doctors didn’t realise that periods were linked to ovulation; instead they believed that this was the body’s way of restoring cognitive imbalances, namely ‘hysteria’.

The connection between periods and competency – both physical and mental – is long-lasting. Although many brilliant women have joined forces to tackle this stigma, Mary Putnam Jacobi was the first to challenge this misconception. Tired of being told that periods came in-hand with laziness, insanity, physical and mental incompetence, Jacobi published an impressive 232-page essay as a scientifically-founded act of repeal.

The Question of Rest For Women During Menstruation, sees Jacobi draw on her experience as a physician to counter all accusations of menstruation-related incompetence.

Judith Esser-Mittag

The woman who considered our comfort

The tampon was first created in America by Earle Haas in the early 1930s. Later, this model was revised by Dr. Judith Esser-Mittag, a German-based gynecologist.

Frustrated by the lack of funding and the slow-moving evolution of gynaecological health, Esser-Mittag made it her own focus. In 1940, she revisited Haas’s earlier model, with something a little more practical in mind. Her new designs would feature elements that are integral to the tampons we use today, like fibre-pad layers to protect the vaginal cavity and an application, meaning the product could be inserted internally by hand.

Esser-Mittag has been praised for her designs, but she also demonstrated the importance of women taking control of a narrative they know best.

Leona Chalmers

The woman who gave us an alternative

Like the tampon, the menstrual cup has been around in one form or another since the 1930s. But it was American-born actress, activist and inventor, Leona Chalmers who brought the first menstrual cup – then known as a catamenial receptor – to the mass market.

Recognising the need for an an alternative to the tampon, Chalmers created one. Initially, Chalmers and her team, produced the cups in a hard-surface, rubber, before moving towards a vulcanised, softer rubber. Today, this formula has evolved and best known for its disposable qualities.