Margaret Sanger, "What Every Girl Should Know," 15 Dec 1912.
Published article. Source: New York Call, Dec. 15, 1912 , Margaret Sanger Microfilm C16:0039 .
Part IV of an 11-part series. For "Introduction" see Nov. 17, 1912, for Part I "Girlhood" see Nov. 24, 1912, for Part II "Girlhood" see Dec. 1, 1912, for Part III "Puberty" see Dec. 8, 1912, for Part V "Sexual Impulse" see Dec. 22, 1912, for Part VI "Sexual Impulse" see Dec. 29, 1912, for Part VII "Reproduction" see Jan. 3, 1913, for Part VIII "Reproduction" see Jan. 19, 1913, for Part IX "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence" see Jan. 26, 1913, for Part X "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence" see Feb. 2, 1913, and for Part XI "Some Consequences of Ignorance and Silence" see Mar. 2, 1913.
Beginning with puberty the eggs from the ovary are expelled as they ripen or mature. This process is called ovulation and occurs about every twenty-eight days. It is closely related to menstruation but it is not menstruation as you will soon learn.
Some writers say the egg is expelled at other times than at the menstrual periods; another writer asserts that one passes every six hours, alternating male and female. There are many views and ideas on the subject of ovulation, but I will tell you of the most generally accepted theory, that the egg is expelled from the ovary every twenty-eight days.
When the eggs ripens, the ovary discharges it and sends it on to find its way through the tubes to the uterus. Here we find the blood supply of the uterus greatly increased in preparation for the egg. We find the inner lining of the uterus becomes very soft and smooth so that the egg can very easily find a place in which to lodge itself until it becomes fertilized. We also find that the cells swell and multiply, all in preparation to welcome and nourish the incoming egg or ovum. If the egg is fertilized by the male, it then remains in the uterus to develop. If not, it is thrown out, together with all the preparation made to receive it. The cells burst and discharge their contents; the mucus blood, cells and all come away in what is called the menstrual flow.
At one time woman was thought to be the only creature which menstruated. But science now tells us that all warm blooded animals which walk erect menstruate. The discharge is chiefly due to the position which in standing upright throws the large part of the uterus higher than the neck. In animals, such as dogs, cats, etc., the same process goes on, but the position of these animals keeps the large part of the uterus lower than the small part, where the blood is retained and then reabsorbed into the system.
This process goes on every four weeks in girls after they reach the age of puberty and continues at regular periods as long as the egg is not fertilized until the reproductive age is over, which is usually between the 45th and 50th year. If, however, the egg is fertilized the menstrual flow ceases and this blood supply goes to nourish the new life in the uterus. It does not appear again until after the birth of the child, and usually ceases while the child depends on the milk from the mammal glands.
The age at which this process (menstruation) first takes place in girls differs in individuals. Climate has some effect upon it, for girls in warm or Southern climates mature earlier than in colder places. In this climate the average girl reaches puberty at 14 years of age. Some have been known to reach it as early as the 11th and others not until the 18th year, in all in the same place and yet normal and healthy, which shows there is no reason for anxiety if the girl does not menstruate at 14, provided she is developing normally and is in good health. During the first few years after its appearances the periods are likely to be irregular. This is because the sexual organs are not fully developed. Often the period does not occur after the first time for three, five, eight months, and sometimes a year. This irregularity continues for two or three years. Cases of girls coming from Europe have been known where the period was perfectly established over there, but after arriving in this climate the menstrual flow did not occur again for a year and over. Usually this irregularity lasts only a few months, and once it has become regular, there should be no worry over its arrival a day or two earlier or later.
The length of time the period lasts differs in women also. The average length of time is four or five days, yet there are women in which it lasts fully a week, and others but a few hours. The length of time should not be of as much concern as the amount of discharge which is expelled each time. It is, of course, difficult to estimate this, but physicians claim that more than three protectives in twenty-four hours should not be used. In all women the flow is more profuse during the first two days.
The care of the health should receive more attention during the first two days than is usually given it. To the girl who has to work from early morning until late at night, these two days are unusually hard on her nerves and on her general health, and I regret that I have no new message for her to help lighten the burden, which under the present atrocious industrial system makes it so hard for her.
Physicians say there should be no need of interrupting the regular routine of the day at this time more than any other. There are a few strong women to whom this period makes no difference, but the average girl in this country spends two days of pain and discomfort. Out of 1,000 girls questioned, only 16 per cent were entirely free from pain, which proves that the time has come for women to cease being ashamed of this function, and insisting upon at least one day's rest at the expense of her employer. Some of the old biblical ideas instilling into the man's mind that a woman is unclean at this time has been the cause of much hardship and many sneers endured by a woman during these periods. The consequence has been that she will bear the most intense pain rather than allow the men working with her to suspect that she is menstruating. It is all nonsense and wrong, and it is time women should band together in one great sisterhood to protect one another from being slowly drained and exhausted of their powers of motherhood for the benefit of their exploiters. Women who belong to unions should demand that this day be given them and their sisters. Girls continue to suffer pains in the abdomen and back, pains running down the limbs, headache, often nausea, besides being nervous and irritable, yet hang on a strap in an overcrowded street car, stand or sit all day in the shop or at the machine and utter no protest. They know, too, they are not alone in this suffering, for they see about them day after day hundreds of other women enduring the same pain, yet they remain silent.
How long will you endure this, working women?
There is one thing to remember, that the greatest strain comes on the nervous system at this period. One of the best ways to assist in building up the nerve strength is in sleep and rest and for the girl who dares not remain away from the shop fearing to lose her "job" the next best thing is to get to bed early, for there is nothing that builds up the exhausted nerves like sleep. Fortunately, the girl at school has some consideration shown her at this time, and it is well that this is so, for until the period becomes established there is special danger of overdoing in school work, which often causes St. Vitus dance and other nervous disorders.
I believe firmly in the regular warm tub bath, or cold sponge followed by a good rubbing all over the body at this time, together with nine or ten hours' sleep, and light nourishing food without stimulant. If the bowels are active, it often lessens the pain considerably, and it is very important that every girl attend to this if she has any regard for her health. There are a few abnormalities of the menstrual function which I will not take the space to state here. Before leaving the subject, I wish to impress upon the reader that most abnormalities, such as too little or too much flow, or very great exhausting pain are usually caused, not by any diseases of the generative organs, but more often a disturbance of the general health, which can often be treated and cured by building up the system.
Every girl should learn the laws of menstruation and its hygiene and have a full understanding of the same. The menstrual function occurs only in the female at puberty, but at the same time there comes to both boys and girls, or male and female, a mysterious and impelling influence, which has great power over the lives of both during the adolescent period unless they understand and control it. This is known as the Sexual Impulse. It is of this I shall tell you next.(To be continued.)
Copyright 2003. Margaret Sanger Project