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Wednesdays with Wade: Disney's Story of Menstruation

Wednesdays with Wade: Disney's Story of Menstruation

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After World War II, Walt decided he needed to diversify and also wanted to make use of all the experience his studio had gained in making training films for the military. So Walt began to explore the possibility of making educational films for schools and other clients. One of those films, not seen in decades, has become almost a Disney urban myth.

Disney's "The Story of Menstruation" was originally delivered to the International Cellu-Cotton Company on October 18, 1946. It runs approximately ten minutes. It has been estimated that the film has been seen by approximately ninety-three million American women. Neither sexuality nor reproduction is mentioned in this influential film, and an emphasis on sanitation makes it as Disney historian Jim Korkis has suggested: "a hygienic crisis rather than a maturational event."

Schoolgirls in the 1950s were shown "educational" films, such as "Figure Forum" and "Facts About Your Figure" (made by the Warner Brassiere Company) and it helped create "needs" for such things as foundation support, cosmetics, and a variety of "sanitary" products in young girls as early as eleven years old.

While visiting Jim Korkis during Mousefest, he showed me some treasures from his personal archives, including a copy of this historic film and with his kind permission, I am sharing the following information with the readers of jimhillmedia.

The film opens with soft, soothing music and white flowers floating into a window and revealing a yawning baby in its basinet with some scattered toys on the floor.

The blue title cards proclaim: "Presenting the Story of Menstruation. A Walt Disney Production Through the Courtesy of Kotex Products."

An older, somewhat sophisticated but motherly narrator intones in almost a confidential whisper: "Why is nature always called Mother Nature? Perhaps it is because like any mother she quietly manages so much of our living without us ever realizing a woman is at work..... Mother Nature controls many of our routine bodily processes through automatic control centers called glands. The Story of Menstruation begins with one particular gland: the pituitary gland..... As the girl grows up from blocks to dolls to books that means her body is obeying the orders issued by the pituitary gland."

This narration is accompanying by some limited animation of young girls of different ages designed in a style similar to the famous "Freddy Moore" girls of Disney cartoons. During the course of the film, these designs are replaced with another style very reminiscent of advertising cartoons from the 1950s. The girls have large heads and smaller, simplified bodies with little detail.

Disney's experience with military training films is echoed in this film. There are no backgrounds, animation cycles are re-used, and the great majority of the film concentrates on limited animation diagrams of the ovaries and fallopian tubes rather than character animation. (In fact, one scene of the girls of different ages have them standing stock still in a circle while a cute little black Scottie dog in the center turns to each one.) To explode an urban myth, there are no Disney characters (definitely no Minnie Mouse discovering her "special" time) in the film.

In fact the entire film is very quiet, subtle, formal and clinical. "Menstruation is just one routine step in a normal and natural cycle that is going on continuously in the body," soothes the narrator while she reminds us that there is an accompanying free book available in case the information supplied by this film is so overwhelming that a viewer isn't able to retain it all.

That booklet was entitled "Very Personally Yours" and was filled with promotional material for Kotex brand feminine products and included Disney artwork from this educational short. The 1947 edition has a cover that features a somewhat sophisticated female hand holding an engraved card that says "Very Personally Yours" with no hint what the contents might be. Jim also has a copy of the book in his collection and it is approximately 5 by 7 inches, small enough to slip into a purse, with twenty pages of text. In the side margins are drawings from the film but interestingly, there is no Disney copyright in evidence anywhere in the book. The final text pages are very directly aimed at promoting a variety of Kotex products for feminine hygene. Since the Disney film was run for at least two decades after its creation, the booklet was updated over the years and I don't know how much of the Disney artwork remained in later editions.

However, someone decided that about three-quarters of the way through the film it would be okay to include a moment or two of humor so we see a girl being bounced violently while trying to ride a horse. A much more blatant piece of slapstick is when a girl is cleaning a big green stuffed chair and picks it up, looks shocked and lets it drop, sending it crashing through the floor while the narrator is warning that normal exercise is fine but "it is going to extremes that's wrong and to be avoided."

The film ends with the same yawning baby in the basinet, to not only save money by re-using animation but to suggest that the baby at the beginning of the film grew up to be a young girl and taking careful heed of the information in the film got married and became a young mother with a baby of her own.

"And that's the story. There's nothing strange nor mysterious about menstruation. All life is built on cycles and the menstrual cycle is one normal and natural part of nature's eternal plan of passing on the gift of life."

Then there is a final title card stating: "Presented with the compliments of Kimberly-Clark, makers of Kotex products."

Disney produced several educational films before determining that is was both unprofitable and unproductive for his studio and turned his attention to other projects like the world's first theme park.

I would like to thank Jim Korkis for allowing me to share with other Disneyphiles the story of this curious educational film.

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