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A Mighty Ally for Period Poverty

Caroline Dillon, a member of the new freshman class, has always been drawn to nursing. During a fourth-grade field trip to Boston’s Museum of Science, she saw an exhibit on childbirth that featured graphic videos. “My 10-year-old classmates were grossed out,” she recalled, “but I said I want to deliver babies.”

Fast forward to high school, and she helped write SB 142, New Hampshire’s period poverty bill requiring all public high schools and middle schools to provide free and accessible hygiene products in girls’ and gender-neutral restrooms. “I think that hygiene products are a basic human need,” she said, “like soap, toilet paper, toothpaste – it’s an infringement on your rights as a human being to not have access and have that deter you from education and work.”

The bill sprang from Dillon’s experience as a rising senior at Spaulding High School in Rochester, NH, when she participated in the American Legion Auxiliary’s Granite Girls program. The weeklong camp included activities such as writing “mock bills.” Her interest in women’s and girls’ hygiene inspired her to draft a mock period poverty bill.  Later, during a campus visit to Penn, she mentioned the mock bill to Marianne Smith, Penn Nursing’s associate director of enrollment management, who encouraged her to turn it into a real bill.

“As soon as we got home I got on my computer,” she said. She looked on the New Hampshire Senate website and found Sen. Martha Hennessey, a health- and education-focused Democrat from Hanover—who coincidentally, happens to be a Penn alumna. After Dillon reached out to her, Hennessey agreed to sponsor the bill.

Helping drive the bill through the state senate took Dillon out of her comfort zone. “I’m not a person who enjoys public speaking, so having to testify was a little intimidating at first,” she said. But she found her voice by speaking up for others. “I wasn’t speaking on my behalf, but on behalf of people affected by period poverty.”

Despite some criticism (one Republican senator called SB 142 a “socialist giveaway”), upon signing it into law in July, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu compared it to lunch programs for kids facing food poverty.

Dillon is excited to continue her activism at Penn Nursing. “There will be a lot of likeminded people and faculty with connections,” she said, “and I’d like to continue to help bring awareness to period poverty.”