Monday, May 3, 2010

That time of the month in 1945

These photographs remind me of the photographs of my mother's era where all the girls would stand around for a photograph that you can probably imagine took about 15 minutes to take provided the 'box brownie' was working. There was often a girl sitting on a lawn, with a dog. Black dog called Nigger (OH MY GOD!) and a cat called Tiger (even that has a new meaning these days!!). I was thinking of these women on the weekend when I was reading something about a collection of stories by women who are relaying tales about their first period. Eeuuww, I hear, and yes, but when you delve a little further, these are some of the funniest stories around. In the days of God, King and Country 1940's women had no access to sex education other than a large leather bound 'Ladies Handbook' about a ladies' reproductive organs and being a good wife. I still have my mothers handbook that was handed down to her from her mother and handed down to her from Hippocrates himself I suspect. Having perused this tomb of pop up drawings of pink internal organs I'm surprised that I'm here at all. The Ladies' Handbook of Home Treatment 1939 provides illuminating drawings of the 'female figure' with an intestine that appears to have overgrown everything that could be even slightly sexual or reproductive. The chapter on 'Beginning of a New Life' provides a highly detailed drawing, FIG.1.-a Stigma b. Anther. c., Stamen d. Petal. No wonder they were confused, they thought their reproductive organs came from the garden. The chapter on making a marriage a success provides valuable insight into not very much but rest assured we learn that 'Good women are a nation's chief asset' however by the time we get to Chapter III 'Sex Physiology and Hygiene' (this is 1940's Cleo don't forget) we've learned that the function of reproduction is the noblest of all human powers. I'm not sure if I'm meant to be marching into battle or just getting laid. Getting back to my original point, I recall my auntie describing the first time she discovered herself menstruating. She, of a family of 5 brothers and sisters announced to everyone at the breakfast table that she was dying. My grandmother recognising immediately that perhaps the Ladies Handbook had not answered all of the questions, announced to the family over their porridge that there was nothing to be bothered about and she had just cut her arse! Come to think of it if she ever did get to the end of the Ladies Handbook she would be probably too old to worry about it anyway.


  1. Can you imagine how dreadful it must have been?

    My mother has memories of having to wash and re-use old rags (now makes sense of "I've got my rags"). They'd hang them to dry inside an old gum tree so that her brothers wouldn't be able to see them.

    Makes waddling around in 1982 with what felt like a styrofoam surfboard between my legs (that I could at least throw out afterwards) seem like a walk in the park....

  2. Oh Lorna you went there and so nicely! You should have a bash at Theme Thursday frankly . .PINK! Haha! I may steal this theme if you don't. I remember my mother using old nappies! Bleaching the damn things. Then I rode a horse 10 kms with a rather dubiously inserted tampon and still managed to bear children afterwards . .if only there was a master class! Classic Post. Tabu and Classic. Yeh, I think I may go there . ..

  3. I remember boat sized sanitary napkins from the age of eleven. My older sister began menstruating at thirteen so I wasn't expecting it and had to borrow napkins and a belt from her. That night after school my dad gave me a ten shilling note and told me to go to town and buy my own sanitary belt and napkins. Years later, the day I learnt to use tampons was the best day of my life.
    I also remember old wives tales of not washing your hair while menstruating and not immersing yourself in water, i.e. no baths, just sponge baths.
    When I eventually moved to live with my mum, she told me tales of having to knit her own sanitary napkins.

  4. Ah the untold skills of menstruation. It sounds a bit like carpentry really all those belts and buckles.

  5. KNIT HER OWN SANITARY NAPKINS?!?! OMG we are so darn lucky these days ... sort of.