Saturday, August 27, 2022

Question from Becky - Menstruation, cramps, etc.

How were womens menstrual/period cramps dealt with in 16th century England? What did women use/wear between their legs and underneath their dresses to keep from leaking? How were pms/pmdd symptoms dealt with? Did most women/some men even understand the concept of that, and were they even called that back then? Some answers would be helpful. Thank you.

Previous partially-related thread:
https://queryblog.tudorhistory.org/2008/04/question-from-beth-womens-underwear-and.html

4 comments:

Howard said...

Hey Becky, you may want to get a female historian to look more into this, but I’ll try to answer this as best I can. Women’s menstruation, back then, was unfortunately very taboo, however, ironically, society expected that girls needed to go into menarche (another word for starting her period), so she could become of age to give birth, for her husband, and reproduce the next generation of human beings. Depending on her social status and how poor or wealthy she was, she might’ve used either a sanitary belt, (albeit uncomfortable), a piece of cloth or rag, or she might’ve just simply “gone with the flow”, (pun intended) and bled freely into her skirts and petticoats, even if it stained them. Then again, it’s possible women just didn’t really have as many periods as modern day women because they were expected to be pregnant more often, (from one baby to the next) and therefore, spending most of her young life without a period, every single month. And as for menopause, women went into that, too, a little earlier than women do today, and as long as the woman had been of good use to her husband, (giving birth in younger years), she (hopefully) wouldn’t have ostracized/mistreated for not being of reproductive age, anymore.

Becky said...

Hi Howard, I appreciate your response. It’s no problem, in fact, as a woman, I think more men should be aware and (tactfully) talk about that “time of the month.” Thank you.

PhD Historian said...

I am curious, Howard, whether your response is based on primary-source documentary evidence, or perhaps some secondary source information that you gleaned from another Tudor history fan site, or just speculation. I ask this with all due respect because the topic is a very complex one that must take into account, among other things, the state of medical knowledge during that era and the paucity of evidence directly from the women affected. For authentically scholarly work on the issue, I recommend Bethan Hindson, "Attitudes Toward Menstruation and Menstrual Blood in Elizabethan England," Journal of Social History 43:1 (Fall 2009), 89-114; Patricia Crawford, "Attitudes To Menstruation in Seventeenth-Century England," Past & Present No.91 (May 1981), 47-73; and Thomas Laqueur, "Orgasm, Generation, and the Politics of Reproductive Biology," Representations No.14, 1-41. From just these three articles, it becomes clear that the subject of socio-cultural attitudes and practices surrounding female reproductive processes, including menstruation, is still rife with debate and contradiction, and historians have yet to reach a consensus of opinion on how women of the Tudor era handled their monthly periods.

Anonymous said...

As someone who has studied historic costume in a casual way, the concept that women “ just bled into their clothes” seems ludicrous to me. I think it’s hard for us to really comprehend just how expensive even the simplest clothing was, at all levels of society. Undergarments, also expensive, we’re not just used for warmth and modesty but to protect the even more valuable outer garments. Consider that every garment was hand made in every single step and how valued they were. I find it hard to imagine that women didn’t find it purely common sense to use easily washed fabric pieces when they bled. Menstruation was private but by no means taboo to discuss, and would have been a topic of every marriage negotiation. It’s not like it was never discussed. It’s true that women who were actively having children may not have had many periods, but there were many women…young, widowed, unmarried, nuns, etc who were. Do you really think they were going about their business running the risk of having a big blood spot show up on their clothing? I don’t. I stick to the idea that scrap or reused fabric of some sort was used.

The concept of PMS did exist, sometimes called “megrims”, or so I’ve read in several places but I’m sorry I can’t put my finger on a quote.