Herstory Unsanitized

explore the engrossing “taboo” topics omitted from history

History should never be boring!

Binge-watch VikingsTurn, or Frontier, and you’ll see people being disemboweled, tortured, and decapitated – but you won’t see anything about menstruation, chamber pots, birth control, breastfeeding, or poopy babies. It’s 2021, but these “unsanitary” subjects still make many people uncomfortable.

The most common reason why people hate history is because they find it boring. So often we’ve heard, “In high school, we just had to memorize facts about dead people.” People pass history tests by parroting thick, biased, obsolete history textbooks. They write predictable essays that follow the perfect five paragraph format. They become regurgitators – not lovers of history.

Our herstory unsanitized presentations explore the engrossing “taboo” topics omitted from history. They’re not about bustles, butlers, spinning wheels, quilting bees, hornbooks, or hoop rolling. Audiences will be alternately chuckling and aghast!

Herstory Unsanitized Programs

Keeping Up Appearances

a history of women’s beauty trends and the standards that shaped them

A 3-part herstory unsanitized series ideal for Women’s History Month – schedule all 3 (at a discounted price), or start with just one!

Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but it’s been shaped by everything from politics, to Hollywood, to double chins on the women of Rubens!

You're making me blush!

the history of women's makeup
The first historical traces of makeup on record can be found in cave paintings of Paleolithic women with portions of their body colored in reddish-brown tones. In ancient Egypt, women wore makeup as a marker of wealth believed to appeal to the gods. Queen Victoria declared makeup to be vulgar!

For some women, makeup is something that should always be applied before leaving the house, and for others, it's unnecessary and offensive. The next time you pop on your magnetic mink fake eyelash strips, think about all that women have gone through in order to give you the freedom to choose.

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Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow...

the history of plucking, waxing, tweezing, and shaving
The human body contains 5,000,000 hair follicles. The practice of removing female body hair isn’t new - it can be traced back to ancient Rome and Egypt. During World War II, wartime shortage of nylon meant women couldn’t wear stockings every day. Having to go bare legged, more women shaved their legs, a practice that prepared them for the mini-skirt in the 1960s. By 1964, 98% of American women were routinely shaving their legs. Today, the choice to groom body hair is a personal preference, but it's a practice that’s been shaped by centuries of history.

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Don't Sweat the Small Stuff!

Body Odor through the Ages:
the history of deodorant
It’s estimated that 95% of American women use deodorant. The first deodorant was trademarked in 1888, and the first antiperspirant in 1909 - when a Cincinnati physician developed a liquid antiperspirant to keep his hands dry during surgery. His daughter used the invention under her arms, and found it eliminated sweat and odor - and later, decided to market it to women as a way to ditch hot and uncomfortable sweat pads used in dresses. Find out who else left their mark in the armpits of America!

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Suffragettes in Corselettes

For centuries, women have allowed themselves to be squeezed, twisted, and squished to conform to desired shapes. The history of underwear reveals a lot about women’s changing roles in society – how we perceive ourselves, and how we’re viewed by others. The 1910s saw an end to the hourglass figure with a tiny waist. Women were finally able to breathe and move more freely. Did the demise of tightlacing help women gain the right to vote in 1920? 

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Booby-trapped: the history of the bra

Just as the modern woman has evolved over the last one hundred years, the bra reflects that transformation. Before the bra was invented, corsets lifted breasts to artificial heights—but they pushed from below instead of lifting from above. In 1913, using two pocket handkerchiefs and some pink ribbon, socialite Mary Phelps Jacob created the “backless brassiere,” and became the first patent recipient for the modern bra. From Jacob’s invention, to the bullet shape  of the 40s, to modern-day pillow cup push-up plunge bras, our boobs have been cinched, flattened down, and lifted up.

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The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife

Discover what life was really like for New England’s colonial women – because we’ve always been curious about: menstruation, sex, birth control, childbirth, sickness, and medicine.

For instance: in an era when underwear hadn’t been invented, what did colonial women do when they had their periods? What were early American birth control methods? It was suggested that colonial women try jumping backwards seven times after intercourse to expel sperm, drink water that blacksmiths used to cool metals, or insert a mixture of dried crocodile dung and honey into the vagina.

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The Not-So-Golden Life of the Gilded Age Wife

Although Gilded Age women in the upper and lower classes had many differences, they had one similarity. Women, viewed as second best to men, were expected to be content with this role in society.

Topics include: ovariotomies, sedation of menopausal women, free-bleeding, tapeworm larvae, meat masks, mourning, and hidden mother photos.

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Pudd'nheads: Childhood in Colonial America

Pilgrim and Puritan colonists had children, and though it would be hard to tell from historical records, so did indigenous families and enslaved Africans.

This program examines the unique aspects of childhood between the late sixteenth and late eighteenth centuries. The presentation explores birthing and childrearing practices, parenting, children’s health and education, naming, gender, play, and rites of passage.

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Quack or Fact?

The history of colonial medicine is filled with stories of strange tonics, outlandish remedies, and curious “cures.” Toads, snails, mashed potatoes, mandrake, and bear grease were commonly prescribed. While some of these ingredients sound crazy, there’s logic behind many of them! For instance, snake oil hasn’t always been just a euphemism for quack medical treatments. For centuries, oil from the Chinese water snake was an actual treatment used in traditional Chinese medicine to relieve joint pain. Today, we know that snakes are a rich source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), an omega-3 fatty acid containing anti-inflammatory properties. 

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If the broom fits...
Halloween & the History of Witches

Have you ever wondered, especially on Halloween, why witches are depicted as riding on brooms through the nighttime sky? (It's a story you may find difficult explaining to the kids!)

You're never going to look at sweeping the same way again...

How did the benevolent image of a wise woman transform into the malevolent figure of the witch we know today?

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Think about your all-time favorite movies and books…

We all love stories that pull us in and don’t gloss over the excitement. We’re drawn to stories that make us a part of the action, that highlight humanity, that require us to struggle with themes we can relate to – like right and wrong, or good and bad. We want stories that make us wince, laugh, and grimace.

We think of our programs as Stealth (or Sneaky) Learning!

Stealth learning is when a presenter uses clever, disguised ways to introduce learning objectives through non-traditional ways, such as hands-on activites, to encourage participants to have fun and learn. Audiences think they’re merely being entertained, but they’re actually learning. So why use Sneaky Learning? Anytime learning is presented and people don’t realize they’re learning, it’s an unexpected success!

For example:

In our Suffragettes in Corselettes women’s history presentation, we mention that tight Victorian corseting exerted 22 pounds of pressure on the internal organs. Ho hum, boring, boring…

However, we prefer to follow that statement up with a “Stealth Learning Mode” activity. We choose a volunteer from the audience. As the agreeable volunteer lies down on a table in the front of the room, we dramatically place 5 pounds bags of potatoes on her stomach until we reach 22 pounds of potatoes! As the prone volunteer groans and gasps for breath, we know our learning objective has been successful.


Tammy Eustis

Director, Killingworth Library, CT

Astonishment, flinching, and hilarity ~ it was all present at last night’s presentation of The Not-So-Good Life of the Colonial Goodwife! Many thanks to Velya and Ehris for an entertaining ~ and educational ~ evening. Everyone has been raving about the talk today – so much fun!

Susan S.

Trumbull, CT

Velya and Ehris, you are gems! I attended your Herstory Unsanitized talk at THS and just had to bring my 13 year old daughter with me. If you can impress a 13 year old you can do anything. Kudos to you two!


Ann Blank

Springfield, MA

I am writing to let you know how much I enjoyed your “Goodwife” presentation at Springfield Museum.  I have always been interested in learning about the day-to-day lives of our colonial predecessors and have made many trips to Old Deerfield Village. I have learned a lot from these visits, but I have NEVER experienced a presentation as informative and entertaining as yours.  At certain points I and the other women in my row were crying from laughing so hard!  And needless to say, all the “sad” facts made a lasting impression as well. As you said, with all that these 18th century women had to go through, it is a wonder that we are here at all. I found the Events Calendar on your website and am planning to drive to CT to attend more of your presentations (and will bring my friends)! Thank you again for your wonderful, insightful talk!

Interested in booking a program?

Contact Velya and Ehris below!