Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Alexander Brook's illustrations for Modess booklet 'How Shall I Tell My Daughter?', 1954

Recently I've been visiting
My Friend Topic, and cruising her amazing collection of 'zines and booklets and pamphlets and other fascinating paper ephemera.

(You'll likely be seeing more results from my raids soon.)

One that I found intriguing was this booklet from 1954,
"... Published for mothers by Personal Products Corporation, Milltown,
New Jersey, makers of Modess".

This was one of many such booklets advertised in women's magazines over the years, so moms could send away for information to help them explain the process of menstruation to their growing daughters.

(click on images to ENLARGE in a new window)

What struck me here, however, was the overwhelmingly somber tone to the illustrations in this particular edition, the work of
Alexander Brook, "... one of America's foremost painters."

Divorced of context, these painted illustrations are more than a little bit creepy.

Yes - - I'm a man, so what would I know of such mother-daughter talks, and yes - - it's 50+ years later and times have changed, as has 'personal products' technology.

Still, had I been either mother or daughter confronted with this book at that time, I think I might feel my life was over.
(I'll guess that may have been an ordinary response.)

A bit of further investigation online turned up a truly amazing website, The Museum of Menstruation and Women's Health, which is loaded with a wide and varied collection of information and images, from the whimsical and 'historically sad' to a gateway of helpful information.

You can read the entire text from this '54 edition of 'How Shall I Tell My Daughter?' archived there, along with commentary and background information.

While there, you can also link to several later editions of the same book (with completely different visual styles), or the companion volume, 'Growing Up and Liking It'.

(click on images to ENLARGE in a new window)

As to American realist painter Alexander Brook (1898–1980), he was known for portraits of women in quiet or reflective poses, so that reputation certainly couldn't have hurt him here.

He was born in Brooklyn, New York, but lived and worked in several places around the U.S. and in Europe after his artwork became popular in the 1930's.

During military service in WWII, he provided sketches to the army as a correspondent in Panama.
After his service he continued providing war illustrations under commission to LIFE magazine.

You can see more art by Alexander Brook online.
Follow links to:
- 18 selected Brook drawings on view at the Childs Gallery

- 4 Brook pieces at
The Smithsonian American Art Museum.

- A few more at artnet.

See also:
- More Modess print ads at the TJS Labs Gallery of
Graphic Design


Gerard said...

Very nice item. Interesting and deftly handled with a good bit of insight into the era as exemplified by the illustrations.

Sparkleneely said...

That's so funny -- I just blogged about the same topic myself! I don't have this gem, though. I love these old pamphlets... and I'm a big fan of your blog. Thanks!

Delinquent said...

You can see Sparkleneely's blog post at

El said...

An inspired history of awkwardness! I love it!

Anonymous said...

My mother took me to the Modess museum in New Jersey when I was 9 years old. She never said a thing as we wandered through, looking at the plastic models of reproduction.

We got free samples when we exited.

I got so much information, but no real explanation.

When my mother told me that my brother "...a man today..." I thought he had started his period. Instead, he got a venereal disease in a Saigon brothal in 1963.

Freshly-stirred links