Inside the Women’s Museum of California archives is evidence of a changing cultural and public attitude towards menstrual cycles. A small glimpse inside the history of menstruation, the Women’s Museum archives houses a 1970s Kotex Introduction kit. The simple kit challenged social norms by encouraging adults to talk about menstruation to their children.
This innovative product makes sense for Kotex, which was a trailblazer in menstratution matience as the first-ever brand of sanitary napkins to hit the U.S. market in 1921.
Before Kotex women used homemade cloth pads to manage their periods. Women had different ways with dealing with their periods each month, and it was commonly accepted that women would rarely be seen in public while on their periods.
Kimberly-Clark launched Kotex in the 1920s by making use of leftover cellucotton from World War I bandages. The disposable sanitary napkin, while seemingly very simple, was a high-tech invention at the time. The discreet yet highly absorbent material gave women more freedom during their monthly periods.
Kotex advertised their products in women’s magazines starting in the 1920s which shaped the perceptions of menstruation and how women publicly discuss their periods today. Their advertising campaigns reinforced the idea that menstruation was something to conceal and a problem for women, rather than a natural bodily function.
The Kotex gift package found in the Women’s Museum’s archives is another example for the company’s innovative marketing techniques. This time though the advertisment was designed to help breakdown cultural taboos surrounding menstruation. The kit promoted that every girl should know about menstruation before their 11th birthdays and encouraged mothers to talk to their daughters about menstruation.
The kit was market to mothers as a way to introduce their daughters to menstruation. The kit includes instructive booklets for the first time menstruators, sanitary napkins, belt, and napkin holder. The star product of the kit is the New Freedom menstrual pad.
Women had complained for decades about menstrual pads and how difficult they were to use. Pads shifted position, twisted so they wouldn’t lay flat, and the attachment devices (belts) sometimes irritated or injured the wearer. In the early 1970s Kotex introduced New Freedom pads, which used adhesive to stick underpants.