The Ancestor Of The Menstrual Cup Was More Like A Menstrual Canteen

Illustration for article titled The Ancestor Of The Menstrual Cup Was More Like A Menstrual Canteen

The first modern-style menstrual cup was patented in 1932, but that wasn’t the first time inventors turned their skills to the problem of keeping bloody goo off women’s clothes. Take, for example, this little gem from 1884. It’s a menstrual cup, attached to a reservoir big enough to last for days.


Here’s how it worked. A woman would insert the cup (a) into her vagina, just like menstrual cups today. But in this device, the cup opened onto a tube (B) which drained menstrual fluid into a canteen (A) that she strapped between her legs. Each night, the canteen could be emptied through a little screw-capped opening (e).

Hiram Farr may have been right to think that his device would be better than the rags or cotton batting that many women were using to catch menstrual blood. But he seemed to have wildly overestimated how much fluid women were likely to collect each month. On average, it’s about 2 tablespoons. It only seems like 2 cups.

[Source: US Patent 300770]

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Thirteen years ago, I was serving on the board of a low/no income health clinic in Pasadena. I suggested that we try to educate our female patients about menstural cups, and possibly try to subsidize them the way we did condoms, because of how insanely expensive feminine hygiene products are. The male chairman and male clinic manager dismissed it.

Now my life has changed so much that I’m seeking treatment at a low/no income health clinic in Portland. Which fortunately has a female manager, whose response to this suggestion was “oh my god, why didn’t I think of that? I used one when I was younger, and was very grateful for how much money it saved me!”