Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Kathryn Rutherford Blog Header

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Break The Chains


"Does feminist mean a large unpleasant
person who'll shout at you or someone
who believes women are human beings"
                            Margaret Atwood
(Canada's most eminent novelist and poet)
    I am an outstanding photographic darkroom technician, copy photographer and digital printer, but I would never consider myself a professional studio photographer.  I wouldn't begin to take a photograph of a model and am definitely without the knowledge and skills practiced by the professional studio photographers of the 1930's and 40's.  There is absolutely nothing like the dramatic lighting and intense mood captured in a photograph of the great movie stars and fashion plates from that early era.  Those images are, by far, my favourite photographs and why today's discussion relates to just such work.
    It was just an ordinary day when the courier brought the on time deliveries.  Nothing unusual was expected as I opened the first package from one of my regular framing clients.  I was expecting just another broken photograph to restore, but couldn't have been more incorrect. 
    The package contained what appeared to be two folders containing tissue covered photographs.  Someone had taken great care to package and present these images indicating that they had to be special and, quite obviously, original. 
    The quality, exceptional lighting, pose and detail of the photographs took my breath away and so did the imagery itself.  I couldn't wait to tear into the accompanying letter and documentation that came with the package to learn more about what I beheld. 
    It seemed that the framer's customer had come into possession of these photographs upon the recent passing of her mother who was an in-demand New York lingerie model in the 1930's and 40's.  Behold, the images delivered to my studio for duplication were of the mother in two of her successful model shoots of the late 1930's. 
    Gartered stockings, chiffon lingerie and sensuously soft folds in curtains seemed only remotely suggestive for the time period as they were accentuated by the dark and lights of the dramatic scene, with sensitivity and capabilities of the photographer.  But, what of the imagery of the second photograph with it's chained and manacled female encased in a sun bathed doorway?  This image suggested more than I could fathom taking place in the 1930's.  I read on through the documentation until it all made perfect sense. 
    Our questionable image was a product advertisement entitled "BREAK THE CHAINS".  It was photographed specifically for.....are you ready for this?.......a TAMPAX commercial !!!
    Our lingerie lady, and quite obviously the manufacturers of Tampax, were bold and, as evidenced by this photograph, quite brazen feminists.  Tampax enjoys its fame from having sold the first tampon with an applicator in 1936, patented previously by Dr. Earle Haas. 
    The following information comes from the booklet "Small Wonder: How Tambrands Began, Prospered and Grew." There is no date on the booklet, but was probably published in the middle 1980s to celebrate Tampax's 50th anniversary.
    Dr. Haas was born in 1888, graduated from the Kansas City College of Osteopathy in 1918 and spent 10 years in Colorado as a country general practitioner before moving to Denver in 1928.
    He originally invented a flexible ring for a contraceptive diaphragm and made $50,000 from selling the patent, then sold real estate and was also the president of a company that manufactured antiseptics. 
    Haas, however, wanted to invent something better than the "rags" his wife and other women had to wear.  He claimed he got the idea for his tampon from a friend in California who used a sponge in the vagina to absorb menstrual flow and proceeded to develop a plug of cotton inserted by means of two cardboard tubes.  How considerate of the Doctor to insist that he didn't want the woman to have to touch the cotton.
    After failing to get people interested in his invention (including the Johnson & Johnson company), on October 16, 1933 he sold the patent and trademark of his invention to a Denver businesswoman, Gertrude Tenderich, for $32,000. 
    Gertrude started the Tampax Company and was its first president. She was an ambitious German immigrant who made the first Tampax tampons at her home using a sewing machine and Dr. Haas's compression machine.  The first product was sold commercially in 1936.
    After selling the rights to the tampon, Dr. Haas continued with his doctor's practice and various other business enterprises. He later regretted selling the rights, but was glad it was successful. He continued to try to improve the product right up until his death in 1981, at the age of 96.
    As a woman, I applaud Dr. Haas' efforts and am certainly grateful that his invention made my life, and the lives of most women more comfortable.  In 1969, the London Sunday Times Newspaper named Haas one of the "1000 Makers of the Twentieth Century".  It certainly was one of the greatest things made.
    What of our energetic and enterprising Gertrude Tenderich? 
    Subsequent research on her has turned up only minor comments and last minute notations that she was President of the Tampax Company.  There seems to be no honours, accolades and awards given to this outstanding and visionary woman who changed the flow of feminism and further brought comfort and specialty products to the world of women. 
    The photograph before me was a great piece of feminine history.  It has it all:  outstanding photography, innovative imagery representing a fantastically creative and necessary product, a bold statement and courage for a 1930's era to "Break The Chains".   No one else seems to have said it, so I will..........WAY TO GO GERTRUDE!!

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