Girls, this one is for you!

Historic questions, thoughts and other interesting stuff

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Grania
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Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Grania » Wed Mar 17, 2010 8:51 pm

...Well, the men can try it if they like, but I'm assuming this question if for the females around here!

(if you're easily embarrassed the following may be censored!)

I have a question for those of you particularly who know about dress and domestic matters for women in the 16th century particularly (before or after will do too!)
Thing is, I work in my spare time as a volunteer at a very tiny National Trust/local authority property called the Elizabethan House Museum, and one of the rooms - where you are most likely to find me haunting, particularly when in costume - is a lady's bedchamber laid out to fit the period when the house was built in the 1590's. We have a selection of bits of kiddies and women to try on etc etc....but one of the questions I've been asked a few times and been unable to answer is, what did women at that time do about their monthly periods? I've heard various theories, but I wondered if anyone here was better informed?
It's one of those occasions I hate, when someone asks you a question and you have to admit you don't know the answer, and what is more, you can't go and find out for them. Opening season starts soon and I'd like to have some of my blank areas filled in if at all possible!

Thanks all
G


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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Eve » Wed Mar 17, 2010 9:02 pm

Don't have the source for this but I have been told that women used 'tents'. Tents are small rolls of linen bandage often mentioned in the writings of surgeons in the 16th & 17th century. So that is like a tampon.
As I say I don't know the source. The woman who read it didn't know what a tent was, so it didn't make any sense to her.
There might have been other methods and if anyone has a source for me I'd be really happy to know it.



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Miss Costello
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Miss Costello » Wed Mar 17, 2010 11:53 pm

Also lengths of linen, I did read about them making a sort of sanitary towel padded out with wadding of some sort, but I'm not sure what! interesting to note that well into the 1940s women were still using linen 'rags' (hence, 'on the rag') particularly those who couldn't afford retail protection.

Be interested to know what else turns up!

K



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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Wim-Jaap » Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:52 am

I have been told that wome used moss in a linnen sanatary towel- like setting, moss is a good absorbant.
ealier they used just moss, without the linnen rag.

or so I have been told.

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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Eve » Thu Mar 18, 2010 7:36 am

Interesting that we've all heard something but haven't got any sources. I must do some research!

Miss Costello - I knew a woman in the 1970s who told me that when she was young - 1930s and living in Tyneside, she had cloths that she tied on like a nappy and needed to wash out. I can see that this would be ok while fashion wasn't for fitted skirts, but couldn't be so good when fashion changed and 'nappy' would become too bulky.



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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Brother Ranulf » Thu Mar 18, 2010 8:20 am

Eve mentioned the "tent" being found in the 16th and 17th centuries, but it is much older than that. It is from the Anglo-Norman tente, used from at least the 13th century and which can have several different meanings:

It is, as Eve said, a tight roll of linen bandage used to absorb blood or other fluid matter, including in open wounds or ulcers. It seems extremely appropriate in the situation you refer to and I have seen nothing else that would do the job.

It is a swab for wounds during surgery.

It is a metal or wooden probe for investigating a wound.

It is also a linen dressing, as in "oygnet une tente de oygnement " = oygnet, a tent applied with ointment.


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Miss Costello
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Miss Costello » Thu Mar 18, 2010 10:46 am

Hi Eve, yes that's right...horrible things I'd imagine! We're very lucky! :D



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Grania
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Grania » Thu Mar 18, 2010 6:51 pm

Thanks all. Nice to know I'm not the only one who has heard various theories. If any of you can find sources, I'd be really interested (it's always handy to know where information's come from). It's the small domestic stuff that I find really interesting.


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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Wynflaed » Thu Apr 22, 2010 4:36 pm

... this is why I've never quite belived the commonly-stated view that Anglo-Saxon and Viking women went commando. IIRC there are a few remedies for amenorrhea and irregular periods in Bald's Leechbook, but beyond a few people on t'internet asserting that Anglo-Saxon women fashioned sanitary towels out of fleece and/or linen, I've never seen any evidence cited for this, nor any actual, scholarly sources that mention the subject. And I seriously doubt fleece was used - far too oily to absorb blood, surely?

Moss makes sense. Didn't people use it for wiping their arses? Absorbent, soft, free, easily disposable...

That said, how many periods might a woman living at different times in history expect to have? i.e. when would puberty start and how much of her time would she spend pregnant or breastfeeding?

This is a really interesting topic, Grania :P

ETA: is this a topic ripe for some experimental archaeology? Would require a braver person than I am...



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Grania
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Grania » Thu Apr 22, 2010 4:53 pm

Well, I admit I've resorted to telling people who've asked me in the past that it just isn't documented...not sure if I'm right though, I'd rather like to be proved wrong! My experience of 'academic texts' and the like however is that they're often far too boring and, more particularly, impractical, to mention such things :roll:

Wynflaed wrote:ETA: is this a topic ripe for some experimental archaeology? Would require a braver person than I am...


Now that could be interesting.... :wtf:


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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Miss Costello » Thu Apr 22, 2010 5:50 pm

That's a good point re how much time women spent pregnant or breastfeeding. Most women believed that breastfeeding would prevent another pregnancy. :$

I honestly think it was (at least from the 17th century that I can find) Rags. Easily washed out. Linen strips seem to come up frequently.

I'm currently reading 'the weaker vessel' about women in the 17th Century and there are a few references in there.

Kate



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Christabel
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Christabel » Thu Apr 22, 2010 9:17 pm

I remember reading sone-one's autobiography of a 1930s traumatic childhood and having to cope with unexplained puberty - she was simply given a fabric belt (she didn't describe the shape, but it must have been like a simple belt round the hips with another piece going under the crotch) to anchor clean old rags in place and didn't know what to do with it all afterwards as it wan't spoken about. Later she learned to wash them out and dry them for the next time. It wouldn't suprise me if this method had stayed unchanged down the centuries - moss can be in limited supply in certain areas, especially if all the local woman needed it every month!

I have wondered about 'diapered cloth' - used to wipe Hentry 8th's rear because it was so absorbent and luxurious, and yet is used to describe babies' nappies in America, where they also use Tudor vocab we don't, like garbage and drapes. Could this also argue for the use of cloth in Tudor times for 'the flowers'? (A bit tenuous, but, hey!)

I never thought to say it when the tv adverts drive me mad ('have a happy period'), but perhaps we are lucky after all.



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Miss Costello
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Miss Costello » Thu Apr 22, 2010 10:02 pm

:D

When you said about 'have a happy period' I thought of this letter, sent to the CEO of proctor and Gamble.... Few rude words but it's bloody (pardon the pun) funny!
http://www.snopes.com/humor/letters/always.asp

K



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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Alan E » Fri Apr 23, 2010 9:35 am

Miss Costello wrote:That's a good point re how much time women spent pregnant or breastfeeding. Most women believed that breastfeeding would prevent another pregnancy. :$

Kate

By "Most women believed..." did you imply disbelief? :o

Lactational amenorrhoea is a perfectly real and, with limitations (as have all contraceptive methods), it works. I didn't bother looking out the old physiology notes (they'll be well out of date now), but this link http://www.babycentre.co.uk/baby/breast ... ionexpert/ notes it as 98 to 99 per cent effective if you are demand feeding with no substitutes and the baby is less than six months old; a likely situation for many in a period where there were no baby foods available and babies without a wet nurse (or mother) starved to death. It also notes that you have to take account of other indications of ovulation than returning periods, or face a 10% chance of pregnancy. Before the development of modern contraceptives, breast feeding was probably one of the most effective ways of preventing another pregnancy however.

Apologies if I mistook your meaning. :$


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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby lucy the tudor » Fri Apr 23, 2010 11:04 am

Miss Costello, that was brilliant, particularly the idea of putting little warning messages on the back - put down the hammer - all too appropriate.

Alan, no matter what they say about breastfeeding, some of us do not experience any time off periods even whilst following all the rules outlined in that article, so presumably I would have beem fertile almost immediately after giving birth.
A far more effective method of contraception was naturally provided though, a squalling child and stitches means no man was getting near for immediate danger of a repeat of what had got me in that predicament in the first place- and to be extra sure, the baby was fitted with no volume control adjustment, so father was too knackered to even think about it for the early months either.


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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Miss Costello » Fri Apr 23, 2010 12:20 pm

Hi Alan,

it's not 100% fool proof. I breastfed my son for 18months (no powdered milk at all, nasty stuff-plus I have a problem with Nestle and what they have done in developing countries)

I was also a counsellor for La Leche League, and I know that many women fell pregnant again whilst purely breastfeeding. Another thing to note is that very few women experiece a complete cessation is bleeding whilst breastfeeding.


Lucy,I love those warning messages too....mine would have to read 'step away from the chocolate' :D

Kate



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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Marcus Woodhouse » Fri Apr 23, 2010 12:35 pm

Would the poor nutritional diet of the "bulk" of women until more recent times also not be a hinderance to preganancy?


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Grania
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Grania » Fri Apr 23, 2010 1:36 pm

Miss Costello wrote:

Lucy,I love those warning messages too....mine would have to read 'step away from the chocolate' :D

Kate


Yes, I think I'd probably need that one printed on my forehead :D

As for diet...it's a thought. Extreme weight loss or similar would certainly do it.


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Alan E
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Alan E » Fri Apr 23, 2010 4:00 pm

Not 100% - agreed! Even modern contraceptives come with that warning and of course traditional methods were far less certain (which is why people put up with plastic sheaths or hormonal sledgehammers with their potential side effects). I seem to recall that using periods as a marker for ovulation has a success rate in the region of 90% (i.e. 10% failure rate) and note that the quoted 98% success rate for LAM means it fails for one in fifty (of those who are following it perfectly). Probably better than some other period methods which survived into relatively modern times though (exercise or douches after coition come to mind as significantly unreliable).

I suppose in the end it comes down to changed expectations: With the availability of modern contraceptives, a 2% or whatever failure rate is unacceptable, but in period there was a noticeable difference between those who breast fed and those who didn't (used a wet-nurse or where the child died) and relative to other available options it was safe and lessened the chances of pregnancy. Worth thinking about w.r.t. the original topic (to return there) IMO, because the efficiency we expect (in contraceptives or in sanitary equipment) may not have been sought simply because it was not available (nor expected)?

With regard to the mention of using moss, I wonder if there was some means of preparation required (drying? treating in some other way)?


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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Jack the dodgy builder » Tue Apr 27, 2010 8:46 pm

Sorry Im not a girl , but

heres a qoute

When studying the Suffragist movement and Selina Cooper [an Englishwoman who lived from 1864 - 1946], I came across a very interesting story about Mrs Cooper. When working in the cotton mills circa 1900, she was horrified to discover that the mill women used no sanitary towels [menstrual pads], the floor of the work room was spread with straw to absorb menstrual fluids. Mrs Cooper also mentions the smell. When Mrs Cooper made sanitary pads for some of the women there was an outcry from some of the girls' mothers as they were worried that their daughters would not find husbands as the smell and flow attracted them, both being considered signs of fertility. The passage is in Jill Liddington, A Respectable Rebel: Selina Cooper, Virago (1984). One could interpret from this that the use of sanitary pads depended on the cultural background of women.

lots more info here www.mum.org/whatwore.htm which is the Museum of Menstration (sorry about spelling but your'll know)


hope this helps Jack



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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Dave B » Wed Apr 28, 2010 4:31 pm

Of course it's also worth considering that the author might have had a political view colouring thier report, and that the victorians loved a good shocking or salacious story.


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Christabel
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Christabel » Wed Apr 28, 2010 5:07 pm

Given how much effort it required to clean clothing in history, I find it hard to believe that women would have been happy to let their clothes get stained by blood if they had an alternative.



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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby sally » Wed Apr 28, 2010 5:08 pm

Isnt there a bit in Queen Elizabeth's Wardrobe Unlocked about her owning several black silk fingerworven belts that have been potentially identified as sanitary belts, to which presumably a folded cloth was attached? Havent got the book to hand or I'd double check that, but I'm sure I'm not imagining it.

Just in terms of practicality, a long folded cloth works perfectly well, and is easily pinned to a waist strap of some description, you don't need to wear an undergarment with it if a strap is used.



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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Demecat » Wed Apr 28, 2010 10:29 pm

Concidering a woman's 'blood from down there' was considered unclean, I think they would have used linens that were disposed of, so if you were poor, the linens were probably old sheets or the likes. I think I've read somewhere about them putting linens up inside them.

Also, it was fashionable for rich women to have wet nurses so they didn't suckle their young. But the women, after birthing were considered unclean until their churching ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churching_of_women ) which was approximately after 40 days. There was also the (church) rule that pregnant/bleeding/breastfeeding women shouldn't be bedded.

A contraceptive idea I heard of involved inserting 'sponges' to absorbe the semen. Is it possible that this was used for periods too?

Periods will also change depending on food/weight, so the poor may have had times where their periods stopped.



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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby ScorchUK » Fri Apr 30, 2010 12:54 pm

I dunno if this is of any interest, but my grandmother gave me the sanitary belt that her grandmother gave her.

It was a fabric belt with a simple metal webbing-buckle type fastening to go around your waist. It had another adjustable webbing belt looped over it at both ends, with the same adjustable webbing fastening, as a... well, I can only describe it as a crotch strap! This had attached to it, using metal suspender-type fastenings, an opeweave mesh hammock type affair, which you were meant to fill with clean rags.

I have no clue how old that was, but I'm now 45, so 4 generations back from me is a little while ago, but not nearly far enough for you!


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Christabel
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Christabel » Fri Apr 30, 2010 5:49 pm

Brilliant! I bet not very many of those survive. Can you take a picture? Even if it's later than the main period (!!) discussed, it's still fascinating.



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Miss Costello
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Miss Costello » Sun May 02, 2010 10:54 am

Fascinating thread!

I also doubt the story about the straw on the floor, apart from anything I have a large collection of clothing from this era and some years ago catalogued some mill workers clothing and it was not stained in 'that region'

I did find an advert for branded sanitary towels in a ladies magazine from 1910. It's great as it doesn't actually mention what they're for!



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rowana
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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby rowana » Sun May 02, 2010 11:43 am

Is it online? if so, please link the ad, I would like to see it!




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Re: Girls, this one is for you!

Postby Eve » Sat Jun 19, 2010 12:23 pm

I can't work out how to quote from someone on another thread but Gregory has provided some sources in the thread about 13th century medicine. If anyone can bring the quote here it would be nice to have it in this thread.

Thanks again Gregory




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