The items in this online exhibition evoke the stories of American women through the ages.
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Kotex dispenser, ca. 1940

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute


Kotex, a division of Kimberly-Clark, saw the rise of women entering the workforce in the 1940s as an opportunity to provide sanitary products outside the usual venue of the pharmacy.

Kotex sanitary napkins were launched in the 1920s to make use of leftover cellucotton (wood pulp fiber) from World War I bandages. Originally sold in a hospital-blue box at 12 for 60 cents, they became one of the first self-service items in American retailing history after they were strategically placed on countertops with a special payment box so that women didn’t have to ask a clerk for them.

By the late 1940s, a woman in a public bathroom could purchase a fresh sanitary napkin for a nickel. This sturdy dispenser, designed to the latest standards in sterility and ease of use, is a utilitarian nod to both the pace of the postwar woman’s life and her desire for the no-fuss availability of menstrual hygiene products.  

Memorabilia Collection of the Schlesinger Library

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Learn about the Schlesinger Library’s collection of menstruation education pamphlets.

Heather Min