A Woman Against a World of Pads

Have you heard of Leona W. Chalmers? No? It is not easy to find something about her. This probably has to do with her being known in the USA in the 1950’s. And also because she was a woman. On top of this, a woman concerning herself with women. In this man’s world those are too many publicity barriers.

Searching for the woman
Leona W. Chalmers, the sources agree, was an actress and singer who gave up her profession and submitted a patent on menstrual cups. This woman developed a product in the 1930’s, which improved and simplified menstrual hygiene worldwide. I wanted to learn more about her, so I went on a journey. I wandered around in the never-ending internet and stumbled across weirdness, like a man in his fifties operating the museum of menstruation in his basement (?!), or old and creepy drawings, or – and no, I wasn’t surprised – behavioral guidelines for women and a person examining one somewhat stiffly but amused.

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Picture: About the Author Leona W. Chalmers/mum

The first patent
The internet introduced her as Leona Chalmers to me, the presumed inventor of the modern menstrual cup. The patent was first approved in 1937. Today, it can conveniently be found on google. At first the expression catches my eye. Some sentences surprised and amused me. As a small example, the document starts with, “This invention relates to sanitary catamenial appliances, and has for its object the provision of a simple, inexpensive and highly efficient device designed to fit snugly within the vulvo-uterine canal (Note: the vagina), between the uterus and the vulva (…)“. Ok, using a menstrual cup is like an internal snuggle. Sure.
And this is how it goes on: “any fluid passing down the vulvo-uterine canal will be trapped and caused to flow into the receptacle disposed below the dilating rim of the device (…)“. What a beautiful picture, the menstrual cup works like a mousetrap and traps the blood in itself.

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Picture: patent from 1937, complete on google

With a new company, Advertisement begins
With her first patent Chalmer was unsuccessfull, mostly due to the second World War. The material preferred at the time, vulcanized rubber, was desperatly needed during the war. Chalmers access to the material was cut, so her company had to close shortly after.
In the 1950’s Leona Chalmer aligned with a company and patented menstrual cups for the second time. Still, the company also only existed until the beginning of the Sixties. This time, Chalmers chose the name “Tassette“. Tassette was advertised with terms of freedom and flexibility and with the avoidance of annoying smell, due to the “trapping“ of the blood….. finally we know, that the market from early on desperately needed flower-like smelling hygiene products….

Instrument of torture or hygiene product?

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Picture: old menstrual cups found on easycups

Similar products to the menstrual cup existed, and Chalmers relates to them. Thanks to the amazing internet – a miraculous place and a huge toilet – there are still pictures of those devices. I’d like to share them with you, but let me remind you on how truly snuggly today’s versions look like…. Ruby Cup’s product site becomes a real treat!

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Picture: old menstrual cups found on afriska

Chalmers perception of women and menstruation
Chalmers motivation for product development can be spotted in an expressive ad titled „One woman to another – ‘I have found the answer to a problem as old as Eve’“.

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Picture: advertisement Tassette/follettochiacchierone 

In this ad, she describes herself as an active woman, always having been disturbed by the periodic function (an original, wonderfully playful expression I am definitely going to keep). She dreaded the odor, the feeling of uncleanliness and did not want anymore “hulky devices“. Thats why she started working and experimenting with gynecologists and finally developed Tassette.
Tassette’s ad is explicitly for “mature women“, which probably shall be interpreted as not for virgins. Tassette furthermore “ends the feeling of uncleanliness, the dread of the odor, the worry of disposal“ and this “means, at last, peace of mind, carefree daintiness“. At last. Carefree daintiness. What a proposition, what a perception of women!
Chalmers even brought herself to write books. She published two works, “Woman’s personal hygiene“ and “The INTIMATE SIDE of a Woman’s life“. Consistent with the mad-man-era, she proposes necessary behavioral guidelines for women. She warns unmarried women about petting leading to vaginal discharge, constipation and menstrual problems. By the way, period pain according to Chalmers, is psychological and passed on from woman to woman. In her opinion, if a woman disregards the “natural laws of health and hygiene“, she is to be blamed for her husband leaving her. Oh, Chalmer seems like a reactionary businesswoman, rather than someone interested in contributing to social change. The advertising for Tassette seems to be very limited.

My feminist head wanted to write a story on a dazzling, female inventor. But even if Chalmers could not fulfill this hopeful and positive image, in my search I came across absurd and amusing stories and pictures. For now, my websearch for Chalmers is concluded.

Anka works in communications with Ruby Cup. She is a political scientist and writes for the Ruby Blog.


The patent is found here

This blog criticizes Chalmer’s book

A gallery of old menstrual cups can be found here

information, many pictures and texts can be found at the „Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health

The NY Times reported on the Museum

Here you will find information on the history of advertisement of menstrual hygiene products