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The Modern Period

Menstruation in Twentieth-Century America

Lara Freidenfelds

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Winner, 2010 Emily Toth Award for Best Book in Women’s Studies, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

The Modern Period examines how and why Americans adopted radically new methods of managing and thinking about menstruation during the twentieth century.

In the early twentieth century women typically used homemade cloth "diapers" to absorb menstrual blood, avoided chills during their periods to protect their health, and counted themselves lucky if they knew something about menstruation before menarche. New expectations at school, at play, and in the workplace, however, made…

Winner, 2010 Emily Toth Award for Best Book in Women’s Studies, Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association

The Modern Period examines how and why Americans adopted radically new methods of managing and thinking about menstruation during the twentieth century.

In the early twentieth century women typically used homemade cloth "diapers" to absorb menstrual blood, avoided chills during their periods to protect their health, and counted themselves lucky if they knew something about menstruation before menarche. New expectations at school, at play, and in the workplace, however, made these menstrual traditions problematic, and middle-class women quickly sought new information and products that would make their monthly periods less disruptive to everyday life.

Lara Freidenfelds traces this cultural shift, showing how Americans reframed their thinking about menstruation. She explains how women and men collaborated with sex educators, menstrual product manufacturers, advertisers, physical education teachers, and doctors to create a modern understanding of menstruation. Excerpts from seventy-five interviews—accounts by turns funny and moving—help readers to identify with the experiences of the ordinary people who engineered these changes.

The Modern Period ties historical changes in menstrual practices to a much broader argument about American popular modernity in the twentieth century. Freidenfelds explores what it meant to be modern and middle class and how those ideals were reflected in the menstrual practices and beliefs of the time.

This accessible study sheds new light on the history of popular modernity, the rise of the middle class, and the relationship of these phenomena to how Americans have cared for and managed their bodies.

Reviews

Reviews

Freidenfelds argues that innovations in menstrual management would not have been possible without the expansion of middle-class values and lifestyle expectations... Recommended especially for readers in gender studies.

None who read this will fail to appreciate the sheer power of suggestion that marketing creates... Today's 'modern' women are more open about getting their periods, but for the less comfortable among us, the bold-faced title, The Modern Period, suggests a history book and thus lends itself to being read comfortably in public places with nary an old-fashioned blush.

This is the best cultural history of menstruation of twentieth-century America.

An informative and intellectually dense treatise... incorporating resources from feminist theory, history of science, anthropology, and medicine.

The Modern Period is a good overview that combines the major themes raised by other secondary sources with original archival and interview research. It is well written and accessible to those new to the subject. It would be suitable for both undergraduate and graduate courses in medical history and gender studies.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
256
ISBN
9780801898297
Illustration Description
7 halftones
Table of Contents

Introduction
1. Before "Modern" Menstrual Management: Keeping Secrets, Wearing Diapers, Avoiding Chills
2. The Modern Way to Talk about Menstruation: Education, The Scientific Narrative, and Public

Introduction
1. Before "Modern" Menstrual Management: Keeping Secrets, Wearing Diapers, Avoiding Chills
2. The Modern Way to Talk about Menstruation: Education, The Scientific Narrative, and Public Discussion
3. The Modern Way to Behave while Menstruating: Changing Health Beliefs and Practices
4. The Modern Way to Manage Menstruation: Technology and Bodily Practices
5. Tampons: A Case Study in Controversy
Conclusion
Acknowledgments
Appendix: Interview Method
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

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