Products that Changed Women's Lives 

We typically think about the things we don't have on a daily basis and take for granted what we do have.  It's human nature and the truth is, that is what fuels the creation of new products.  There are products out there specifically for women that we use in our daily lives that we don't think twice about.  But we sure would miss them a great deal if they were gone. 

A lot of history and work is behind these products. Here are a handful that revolutionized the way we live and a tiny piece of their history. 

 

The Sports Bra

First sports Bra Ad Image

What would you do if you couldn't slip on a sports bra before working out? Many women skip their workout entirely if they forget to pack them away in their gym bag. It's simply too painful, plus, if there is a lot of bounce it can cause pain and tear the cooper ligaments that maintain shape. There are tales of the Amazons of Ancient Greece cutting off their right breast to take part in archery. Then there is the story of the infamous Violette Morris. Ms. Morris got a double mastectomy in the 1920s because her breasts “impeded control” of her race car. That is serious dedication. While those are extreme examples, seriously, what would we do without our sports bras?

Believe it or not, it was only 40 years ago that the official sports bra was created. In the 1970s, women started participating in running races and one of them, Lisa Lindahl, grew frustrated that there wasn't a better option than the everyday bra to help hold everything in place. She, among other women, would finish their first long distance runs with bleeding nipples and discomfort. So Lisa Lindahl and her friend who could sew, Polly Palmer-Smith, decided to do something about it. They made the first prototype from jockstraps and changed the world of sports for women.

 

 

The tampon

Have you ever wondered what women would use in ancient times when their period came along? Well, we have record of women using grass in Africa, paper in Japan, wool in Rome or wood in Greece. Actually, the wood in Greece is debated and thought to maybe be a myth. In some cultures, women were relegated to menstruation areas. During our periods in modern times, we can now go about our lives as normal. We can even wear white pants if we dare or go for a swim. It's interesting to know that it wasn't until the government lifted the ban against advertising tampons on TV, and when more women entered the workforce during World War II, that tampons took off. 

New ways to manage periods that are more environmentally friendly are starting to come to market, such as menstrual cups. Have you tried the new period underwear yet?

 

The fertility Predictor

We don’t know when we first understood that there are times during the month when women are fertile or not, however, there is a record in the Talmud tractate Niddah from 200 CE that women only become pregnant during certain times of the month. It wasn’t until 1905, however, when Dutch gynecologist, Theodoor Hendrik van de Velde, showed that women only ovulate once a month (1). Then in 1920, Kyusaku Ogino in Japan and Hermann Knaus in Austria simultaneously discovered that ovulation tends to occur 14 days before the next menstrual cycle (2). Ogino used his discovery to create a formula to help infertile women time their intercourse to get pregnant.

Today, women will go through great lengths to find when they are ovulating. One method to find if we ovulate is when women wake up the same time every morning to take their temperature and chart the readings. Then, to find our fertile window, women pee on sticks each morning or look under a microscope to see if there is a pattern indicating they are fertile. Early ovulation prediction kits were cumbersome and difficult to use. They required the patient to draw a urine sample in a cup, add a specified amount to a test tube, mix one or more chemicals with it, and examine test strips for color development. The patient kept the test strips arrayed in a row to detect the LH surge (source). Still today the tests are cumbersome and often frustrating since the results are hard to understand.

Some day, women may read what women are doing today as ancient history, the same way we read about wood tampons. With the growth of digital health and smartphones, finding out when we are fertile and ovulating is rapidly changing. Gone are the days of confusing, inaccurate and time intensive methods. Now, women can simply insert a vaginal thermometer, go about life as usual, and their smart phone will alert them when their bodies are fertile.


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The NURSING PUMP

Contrary to popular belief, the first breast pump was not invented by Orwell H Needham. Needham was the first person to file a patent for a breast pump, however, breast pumps have been used since antiquity. Ancient Greeks are known to have used ceramic guttus types of pumps and the Romans invented glass milk-extractors. The Roman women would suck on the glass milk-extractor to elevate retracted nipples. Corsets lead to an increased need to fix flat nipples in which were treated with a form of a smoking pipe. Widely available breast pumps, however, have been only around for a little over 20 years. Medela was the first to introduce an electric-powered vacuum-operated pump, which enabled women to be able to go back to work and still feed their babies breast milk while outside of the home. In 2009, the sales quadruped and now seem to be used by nearly all new mothers.

The next generation of breast pumps are on the way. Janica Alvarez grew frustrated with her breast pump experience. Together with her husband, they created Naya Health and are not only improving the pumping technology but making them smart breast pumps.

 
PHOTOGRAPH: SOUTHWORTH & HAWES / COURTESY BUHL COLLECTION; ILLUSTRATION: ADVERTISING ARCHIVES

PHOTOGRAPH: SOUTHWORTH & HAWES / COURTESY BUHL COLLECTION; ILLUSTRATION: ADVERTISING ARCHIVES

Naya Health Breast Pump 

Naya Health Breast Pump 

 

 

the PREGNACY TEST

piss-prophet.jpg

Can you imagine a time when you would have to wait months to find out if you were pregnant or not? Many of us women today don’t even like having to wait a couple of weeks for a missed period! We take for granted the convenience of being able to go to the local store and know the results within weeks of contraception. Even women over 2,000 years ago in ancient Egypt tried to figure out if they were pregnant or not by peeing on wheat and barley seeds. The said if the barley and wheat grows, she is pregnant. This test actually had some accuracy when tested in 1963, which is pretty cool. In the 16th-century Europe, there were ‘piss prophets”. They would read urine like tea leaves, claiming to know if a woman was pregnant or not by the appearance alone.

It was only 40 years ago, 1977, that this was possible and even then, the test involved a test tube, droppers and two hours of waiting for positive results (97%) and negative (80%). Women of course could go to their doctor, but there was no privacy in doing that and they would still have to wait weeks at time for the results from the doctors office.

What other products have changed your life that you would miss if you didn't have them?

 


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References: 

  1. "A Brief History of Fertility Charting". FertilityFriend.com. Retrieved 2006-06-18.
  2. Singer, Katie (2004). The Garden of Fertility. New York: Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA). pp. 226–7. ISBN 1-58333-182-4.

Photo credit: 

  • Cover image AP Photo/The San Francisco Examiner, Lacy Atkins, File