National Museum of American History Acquires Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health Collection
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History has acquired 475 objects and approximately 7.5 cubic feet of archival materials from the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health spanning from the early 1900s to the early 2000s from its founder, Harry Finley. This donation complements and intersects with the museum’s existing collections on medicine and women’s history, including puberty, adolescence and gender identity, as well as business and advertising history.
The Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health was founded by Finley in 1994 and operated out of his residence until 1998, after which it continued as an extensive website. The collection’s objects comprise menstrual health and hygiene products, including disposable and reusable sanitary napkins, tampons, menstrual cups, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics, contraceptives, and educational and promotional kits. Archival materials include advertisements, product packaging, educational materials and pamphlets, correspondence, photographs and videotapes, and scholarly and popular published articles. While the majority of the collection consists of products and items produced in the United States, other nations are also represented.
Menstrual products have been a tremendous boon to women and girls and are critical to ensuring women and girls around the world can fully participate in opportunities for school, work and play. Yet these products also reflect a broader cultural push to render this natural monthly occurrence invisible.
“Before this acquisition, our collection reflected the cultural invisibility of menstruation,” said Anthea M. Hartig, the museum’s Elizabeth McMillan Director. “Although menstruation impacts nearly half the world’s population, the Medicine and Science Division held few items related to menstruation but with the addition of these artifacts and materials, the museum now boasts one of the most comprehensive menstruation material culture collections in the world. Preserving these items in the national collection will help to destigmatize menstruation and start conversations around the topic.”
“I spent many years collecting and documenting this history, and I always wanted the collection, which I fondly called MUM, to be available to the public, researchers and historians to help people explore the history and cultural taboos around menstruation,” Finley said. “The Covid epidemic, my age and the interest shown by the Smithsonian made it easy for me to let that storied museum continue this mission.”
While the museum currently has no plans for a standalone exhibition of these materials, staff plans to digitize the entire artifact collection and offer the content online at a later date. Objects and archival materials will be available for study and research, future exhibitions, publications and loans to other museums. The museum will also publish a post with additional background on its blog today.
Through incomparable collections, rigorous research and dynamic public outreach, the National Museum of American History seeks to empower people to create a more just and compassionate future by examining, preserving and sharing the complexity of our past. The museum, located on Constitution Avenue N.W., between 12th and 14th streets, is open daily except Dec. 25, between 10 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. The doors of the museum are always open online and the virtual museum continues to expand its offerings, including online exhibitions, K–12 educational materials and programs. The public can follow the museum on social media on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. For more information, go to https://americanhistory.si.edu. For Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.
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