Sanitary protection through the ages
By Corinne Draper |
Sanitary products

Being prepared for your period wasn't always as easy and convenient as stepping into your supermarket and putting a packet of pads or tampons in your trolley. Find out what women of past generations used to use and you may be glad you live in modern times!

  • There's evidence that the ancient Egyptian women used sanitary protection not dissimilar to what we use today. Including sanitary pads made from linen and tampons made from papyrus that were softened with ointment.
  • The ancient Greeks were thought to have made tampons from wools and grasses.
  • Throughout history the most common form of of protection used by women, were old scrap of fabric pinned into the underwear. It could then be washed and re-used. This is wear the colloquial term for menstruation 'on the rag' came from.
  • In the 19th century, women often knitted specially-made menstrual pads which could be washed and re-used.
  • It may be hard to believe now, but often women wore no protection at all even up to as late as the 19th century.
  • The first disposable sanitary pad grew from an idea from famous scientist and American founding father Benjamin Franklin. It was originally an idea to help buckshot wounds.
  • The first commercially available napkin was on sale in America from Johnson & Johnson in 1896 and called Lister's Towels. Unsurprisingly, the first manufacturers of disposable sanitary napkins also manufactured bandages.
  • At the beginning of the 20th century, sanitary napkins were held in place with a belt that clipped into the front and back of the pad.
  • Adhesive strips were later added as the belt was not good at holding the pad in place. Nowadays sphagnum and polyacrylate gels are used to make pads very slim yet absorbent.
  • The first modern tampon was patented in 1931 by Dr Earle Haas.


This article was written by Corinne Draper for Kidspot, New Zealand’s best parenting resource.

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