Harry Finley was a 50-year-old bachelor who once tranformed his basement into the “only museum in the world devoted exclusively to the culture of menstruation.” It was’t something he was expected to do. Finley was born in 1942 in New Jersey in a typical American family, where menstruation wasn’t really discussed. His father served in the Army and his mother was a housewife who raised three kids, including Harry. His elder brother attended West Point, but Finley went to John Hopkins University, where he studied philosophy. Later on, he went to Germany and became an artist.


A Secret Hobby

Working as the art director for a German magazine, Finley had to go through a lot of other magazines to get inspired. That’s how he first saw the advertisements for some menstrual products. They looked different from American ones, so, Finley, in a burst of admiration, teared the page out and hid it away.

After spending a decade in Germany, Finley, with all this collection of advertisements, moved back to America. It was still a hobby he kept in secret, no parents, friends or colleagues knew about it. It also wasn’t something he himself treated seriously, more like Pokemon cards. He became a graphic designer for National Defense University, the Washington DC’s institution for high-level national security training. As it turned out to be boring, Finley started visiting the Congress Library to get more historical information to fill his collection. One day it just grew so big he had to open a museum.

It happened on July 31, 1994. That day Finley bought his first mannequin and dressed it in menstrual underwear. As he still worked at the National Defense University, the museum was opened only at weekends. People came and saw a legendary collection of artifacts: the first Kotex advertisement made in 1921, Tampax products from 1930s, a pink dress made out from menstrual cups.

The Bloody Shelter: How Harry Finley Opened The Museum Of Menstruation

The Recognition

There were also some important visitors, like he lab of the Johns Hopkins Department of Biophysics, that created the Instead menstrual cup or Dr. Iris Prager, the head of American education at Tambrands; Dr. Alice Dan, then-president of The Society for Menstrual Cycle Research. One day there were some fellows from The Smithsonian Institution and Dr. Katherine Ott, who later became the curator of the medical division at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, which now houses the Smithsonian’s own collection of menstrual products.

What Finley liked most, there were some ordinary visitors, who just randomly came to see what the museum was all about. They often knew nothing about sanitary apron or how women used to deal with menstruation in other parts of the world. Finley says a lot women told him, “This is the first time I’ve ever talked to anyone else about menstruation.” To Finley that was unexpected as he thought woman did that all the time. Also, there were people who helped Finley with the adjunction. A guy from Holland, who had been collecting the World War II relics, sent him some copies of 1940s government-produced booklets about menstruation. A man from the Midwest donated about 30 pairs of menstrual underwear. That was his fetish, but once he got married, he had to give up on it.

Elissa Stein, who later wrote Flow: The Cultural Story of Menstruation, once visited museum with her husband. She was quite scared and uncomfortable in that dark room, but soon the fear dissappeared.”It was a treasure trove of menstrual memorabilia,” Stein tells. “He knew the chronology and the history, and he had such a wealth of material. But it was curious, because he’s a man, and why is it that a man is hosting a museum of menstruation?”

The Bloody Shelter: How Harry Finley Opened The Museum Of Menstruation The Bloody Shelter: How Harry Finley Opened The Museum Of Menstruation The Bloody Shelter: How Harry Finley Opened The Museum Of Menstruation


That is a good question. Finley was surrounded by missunderstanding. His colleagues asked him not to discuss this business, some women wrote him abusive letters, he was called a pervert on the radio once. His family didn’t like The Museum of Menstruation either. Some people from the menstrual products industry he invited never came. That all bothered Finley a lot.

In August of 1998 the museum closed. Finley started suffering from angioplasty and had a stent implanted. For a couple of years the remarkable collection remained untouched, but when the basement started to leak, Finley had to put it to the storage locker. “It broke my heart when I did it,” Finley says. “I spent I don’t know how many hours and how much money doing this. I took everything and I destroyed it.” If only he could, he would reopen the museim again for sure. But now Finley is 73 and he knows that if the Museum of Menstruation will rise again, it’ll be after he’s gone. Someone younger should keep the legacy going.

The Bloody Shelter: How Harry Finley Opened The Museum Of Menstruation

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