Free the Tampons: Nancy Kramer inspires a movement

Lori Kurtzman

In 1982, Nancy Kramer walked into a women's restroom inside Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, and saw a collection of free tampons and pads on the counter. The founder of the Columbus digital marketing firm was struck. It seemed so obvious. In the years that followed, she convinced a number of businesses—and her daughters' private school—to stock restrooms with complimentary women's supplies. But her 2013 TEDx talk really got things rolling. It's been viewed more than 14,000 times on YouTube, spawned a nonprofit—Kramer's Free the Tampons Foundation—and launched a movement that's spread all over the country. “I really, really in my heart believe if men got periods, we wouldn't be having [this] discussion,” she says. “It would be just like toilet paper.”

Back Story

“I think I was kind of traumatized by menstruation,” Kramer says. She went to a Columbus Catholic school and still remembers the girl sitting in front of her in her fifth-grade class, blood staining her green wool jumper. Kramer's mother had never talked to her about periods. “I literally thought this girl was dying.”

86 Percent

The percentage of women who have started their periods unexpectedly in public without the supplies they need, according to a study commissioned by Free the Tampons. Most improvised a tampon or pad out of toilet paper or something else.


That's how much it costs per year for John Glenn Columbus International Airport to offer free tampons in its women's restrooms. “We have found that it makes good business sense, and it makes good customer service to provide these [items] at no cost,” says airport spokeswoman Angie Tabor.


Bill de Blasio: The New York City mayor signed legislation in 2016 guaranteeing access to feminine hygiene products for not only the city's students, but also its shelter residents and inmates.

Barack Obama: In 2016, the president joined the American Medical Association in urging states to remove sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

Elizabeth Brown: The Columbus City Councilwoman and her aide Kelsey Ellingsen are driving an effort to equip Columbus recreation centers and area homeless shelters with free menstrual products. A $2,000 pilot program involving four rec centers is expected to launch early this year.

The Endgame

“I've said to my daughters that before I die, my goal is to have feminine care products available [for free] in the vast majority of public restrooms,” Kramer says.