THE MORAL DANGER OF TAMPAX
Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh
A decade later McQuaid, by now archbishop of Dublin, was still concerned about the movements of Irish women.
In April 1944 he wrote to Dr Conn Ward, parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Local Government and Public Health, and informed him that at the ‘Low Week meetings of the Bishops, I explained very fully the evidence concerning the use of internal sanitary tampons, in particular, that called Tampax. On the medical evidence made available, the bishops very strongly disapproved of the use of these appliances, more particularly in the case of unmarried persons.’ ‘Unmarried persons’ was a euphemism for women. Did men actually use Tampax? Were they seen as a contraceptive device? It requires a remarkable gynaecological imagination to see Tampax as a contraceptive. The more pertinent fear, however, was that women might derive sexual stimulation from Tampax. This reflects the cultural anxieties of the era.
McQuaid’s medical advisor was Dr Stafford Johnson, who had studied in Clongowes Wood College and graduated in medicine from UCD in 1914. He took a particular interest in medico-moral issues and was an enthusiastic advocate for Catholic ethics in medicine. Early in 1944, Stafford Johnson wrote to McQuaid requesting the return of the Catholic Medical Guardian, which he had earlier lent to McQuaid, ‘in which there was given the pronouncement of the English hierarchy on internal tamponage’. With an ill-disguised sinister tone, Stafford Johnson explained that an ‘interesting development has occurred. Tampax has been off the market here for over a year and a half. One of our Knight Chemists [Stafford Johnson was a Supreme Knight of Columbanus] has just rung me up to say it is about to be in stock once more but has not been delivered from the agent.’ The ‘moral dangers’ of Tampax were pointed out to the chemist and the crisis was averted.
It was 1944 after all! The obsession with female fertility so concerned the archbishop that certain middle-class Catholic girls’ schools were discouraged from playing hockey since the twisting movements were alleged to cause ‘hockey parturition’, that is, infertility. Hence lacrosse was favoured. The latter activity did not necessitate as much midriff movement. While these students were physically active, it was within the confines of an all-female environment. Schools under the management of the Loreto sisters participated in their own sports event from 1905. The Loreto Shield was introduced specifically for athletics, 23 years before women were allowed to compete at the Olympic Games in athletics. Students at various Sr Louis schools played a variety of games from basketball to camogie.
Thelma Hopkins (second left), Maeve Kyle (third right) and Mary Peters (second right) departing for the 1958 Empire Games, Cardiff. (Seán and Maeve Kyle)
As long as women were not flaunting themselves in front of males, it was possible to pursue sporting activities. The Women’s Amateur Athletic Association (a women-only organisation) was to have a particular impact on the development of athletics for women in Northern Ireland. Furthermore, when the Northern Ireland Amateur Athletic Association appointed Franz Stampf as coach in the 1950s, he worked with Thelma Hopkins, who went on to break the world record (in May 1956) as well as to win an Olympic silver medal (the following December) in the high jump. Hopkins remembered that when she first played hockey for Ireland ‘we had to wear long black stockings and tunics down to our knees. Really, it was extremely difficult to play. But in the North, we had a lot of support from the men, mainly because Stampfl was there and his athletes were taken seriously.’ It may be no accident that Maeve Kyle (née Shankey), who was born in Kilkenny and played hockey for Trinity College and Ireland, did not become involved in athletics until she married an athletics coach, Seán Kyle, and moved to Ballymena, Co. Antrim. In 1956 she became the first Irish woman to compete in athletics for the Republic of Ireland at the Olympic Games.
As late as the 1960s McQuaid was still concerned with ‘unnatural pleasures’ associated with female gymnastics, especially the pommel horse.
He was apparently unaware of the unnatural pain associated with the event. Both McQuaid’s and later commentators’ obsession with female activity have blinded many to the varieties of activities in which women could indulge, but the sensual sight of mixed athletics did not become a reality in Ireland until the 1960s.
(Margaret Ó hÓgartaigh is based at the Stout Centre, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.)
Imagine the Archbishop of Dublin being concerned about women using Tampax in case it gave them any sexual pleasure!
That was CATHOLIC IRELAND from 1925 until 1970.
That’s the Catholic Ireland that Sisyphus Martin in Armagh, Gay is like Downs Syndrome Doran in Sligo and Nasty Phonsie in Waterford wants to bring us back too.
The monthly time for many women can be both painful and distressing.
Wouldn’t it be good if it also afforded them some pleasure?
And what is wrong with pleasure. It is God given.
These dirty ould so and so’s wanted to deprive us all of pleasure when they were pleasuring themselves with children, men, women, money and power themselves.
As a priest said to me one time:
“Pat, they would not let us get rid of our semen and it went to heads and made us mad”.