It’s 1940 and you’re on the rag

It's the 1940s and you're on the ragDo you like time travel? Let’s go on a journey together.

It’s 1940 and your period has just started. You are not prepared and you certainly don’t want anyone to know that the gremlins have landed. What are your options?

Kotex developed the first disposable sanitary pads in the 1920s and tampons – branded Tampax – were on the market by 1936. However, it took a while for disposable sanitary products to become popular as women were mortified at the thought of walking into a shop, purchasing a box of pads or tampons and thus announcing to the world that they were bleeding. It was considered shameful and in some respects, a similar attitude towards menstruation exists today in certain countries – Japan is one example.

If we cast our eyes back as early as the 1700s, women used old rags as sanitary pads – ladies would wash and re-use them. It gives a whole new meaning to being ‘on the rag’, doesn’t it? Women living on farms would use a piece of sheepskin as a menstrual aid and then boil it clean with each use. Rumour has it that some ladies would simply ‘free-bleed’ during that time of the month – although the term free-bleeding does not mean what you are most likely imagining.


The first menstrual cups, as we know them today, were invented in 1937 by American actress Leona Chalmers who patented a design made from latex rubber. However, after only a few years of having disposable products on the market, many women resisted what felt like a backwards step in the menstruation department. Reusable products were seen as old-fashioned and it was considered much more modern to dispose of one’s menstrual blood. Women did not feel comfortable with the idea of emptying and cleaning a cup. In short, they were no longer used to dealing with their own menstrual blood, and this is certainly a barrier for many women learning about menstrual cups today.

During World War II, a shortage of latex rubber occurred and the company producing those early cups was forced to stop production. Even the tampons and disposable sanitary pads available at the time became scarce as a result of wartime shortages. Women would have been forced to resort to the older ‘rag’ methods from yesteryear. The war effort meant unintentionally greening up your period.

I’ll let you into a little secret: it is not 1940 and you are not a woman in Britain during WWII. It’s the modern day and you now have the option of gorgeous, colourful, reusable cloth pads and a medley of different menstrual cups in various brands, sizes and colours. Ditch the disposable sanitary pads and tampons completely and embrace a new wave of menstruation sisters – go green and join the conscious period revolution.

Interesting reading


One thought on “It’s 1940 and you’re on the rag

  1. Pingback: YouTube #7: Rumps & veganism in the 1940s?! | Rehana Jomeen

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