On the topic of Regency ladies going commando, how did they deal with their periods? I've been looking online a bit, but haven't found any concrete answers. Do you have any ideas?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s not a lot of concrete information out there that I could find, likely as it was so deeply associated with women, and to this day there’s a pervasive sense of cultural ‘ickiness’ about the subject.
Elizabeth I apparently had some kind of girdle apparatus she used to suspend absorbent cloths in place, and it’s likely that active or working women of Austen’s time may have done so, too, depending on their flows. Also it was quite common for women to simply allow their undeclothes to absorb the blood–after all, petticoats and stockings were much easier to wash regularly than outer dresses.
Of course this is an age of floaty near-sheer muslin gowns, but women probably had the sense to save those for days when they weren’t menstruating; and if ever things got to be Too Much, a genteel lady could always retire to her rooms and let it be known that she was ‘indisposed’ to callers. Of course working women didn’t have such luxuries, but then they were likely not the ones wearing the finest muslin dresses, so they probably rigged something up with garters or pins or girdles and got on with their days.
It’s only in the late 1880s that any article I looked at began to
address the issue of bleeding into petticoats, which began to be seen as unhygienic, (by A Cis Dude of course, lol,) which is when the more contained
rags-and-girdle apparatus began to see wider use, and after the first
World War we then begin to see disposable pads developed, followed by tampons in the 1920s.
There were known treatments for cramps, however–a ‘bladder’ partially filled with hot water and held to the lower belly is the Regency version of a hot water bottle, and some women would take Peruvian bark (also known as Jesuit’s bark) to treat monthly aches. This was the dried and powdered bark of the chinchona tree, which was often used to treat malaria, and remains our major source of quinine, today. Its medicinal properties include being a muscle relaxant, which is likely why it helped with cramping.