My mother has been reading The Women of the House by Jean Zimmerman (a book from our library, by the bye) and she just had to share the following passage with me:
[In the 1690s, no] woman, though, not even Catherine [van Cortlandt Philipse], would dream of shielding her nether regions by pulling on a pair of underpants, even when she menstruated. Women simply bled into their clothing--we're talking about roughly thirty years of monthly "accidents," except for the months a woman spent pregnant. [...] Perhaps the practice of ignoring the issue had its advantages: One historian surmised that far from finding menstrual blood a turnoff, men of the era perceived the aroma of a woman's monthly flow as intensely seductive. And that is fortunate, since bathing with soap and water still was actively frowned upon, with the inevitable gaminess ameliorated mainly by sachets sewn into clothes linings. (178)As a nurse and proponent of personal cleanliness, this passage made her shudder. I believe the not-bathing part, but I'm skeptical about the bleeding-out. Either way, though, it served as a reminder (see post title).