Today: How Kip Tiernan founded America’s 1st homeless shelter for women.
Kip, a successful businesswoman was a volunteer at the Warwick House, a Roman Catholic, antipoverty, antiwar and civil rights organization in Boston. One day in 1974, Kip saw something that stunned her. It was homeless women disguised as men to get a meal at a homeless shelter. After looking into it, she learned that all the shelters in Boston served only men.
Kip checked what other major U.S. cities were doing to help homeless women and learned they were doing nothing. Kip sprang into action getting the city of Boston’s approval to open America’s 1st women’s homeless shelter.
To shelter them, Kip secured and renovated an old abandoned grocery store in Boston’s South End and named it Rosie’s Place, based upon the notion that people need a rose in their lives. Its initial mission was to offer free hot coffee, used but clean clothing and some beds where women were safe to spend the night.
But it wasn’t enough as homeless women inundated Rosie’s Place, many of them with children, for they were often the victims of domestic violence and had few other options. Still other women were drug addicted and many more had limited educations and few job skills. So Kip went to work to solve all of those issues.
Today, Rosie’s Place, with its slogan “Diapers to Detox,” addresses them. Although it has just 20 beds, it serves meals to 150 women a day and its kitchen provides food to another 800 women a month. It helps women, many with children, find housing and employment and it run’s a literacy program for 300 students. It also offers drug counseling.
In addition to Rosie’s Place, Kip helped start the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and in 1981, the Greater Boston Food Bank. That Food Bank is now one of America’s largest, distributing 34 million pounds of food to 560 agencies throughout eastern Massachusetts. And Kip helped to start Victory House, a residential alcoholic treatment center for homeless men.
Kip’s own story, like her charity work, was compelling. Born Mary Jane Tiernan on June 17, 1926 in West Haven, Conn. her father died when she was just 6 months old and her mother died when Kip was 11. She was raised by her maternal grandmother. As a teenager, Kip loved jazz and in 1947, at the age of 21 she moved to Boston to study at the prestigious Boston Conservatory. But Kip was an alcoholic and expelled because of her drinking.
“I was raped once,” Kip told the Boston Globe in 1988. “I was 19. Drunk.” After hitting rock bottom, through Alcoholics Anonymous she attained sobriety and went on to become a top notch advertising copy writer, eventually heading her own successful firm. She also began volunteering time with Warwick House.
But on July 2nd of 2011, 85 year old Kip died in her Boston home from cancer. She is survived by Donna Pomponio, her partner of 15 years and since 2004, her marital partner. Kip’s prior partner, Edith Nicholson passed away in the 1990’s. But the couple had raised Edith’s three children, one of whom, Peg Wright survives Kip as well.
Kip is also survived by the many people Rosie’s Place and her other charitable programs employ and by the thousands of desperate men, women and children whose lives she helped rescue and by those rescued by those programs now. Through the food bank, she is survived by the millions of people she has fed and who are being fed today.
How big a difference did Kip make? To quote the Boston Globe “… (Her) persistent, raspy voice echoed from the streets to the State House as she advocated for the poor…” “By example, she also inspired so many people to try to ease the suffering that, directly or indirectly, she may have touched more lives of the poor in the Commonwealth than anyone else in the past four decades.”
Success Tip of the Week:
In the spirit of Kip Tiernan, there is nothing to stop you from donating a little of your time or money to a worthwhile charity in your area for every bit helps and it will make you feel good about yourself.
To learn more about this extraordinary woman, please see “About Our Founder,” Rosie’s Place “Remembering Kip Tiernan,”, “Rosie’s Place founder Kip Tiernan dies at 85” both pieces from the Boston Globe, the latter of which the referenced quotes were taken. And The New York Times, “Kip Tiernan, Founder of First Shelter for Homeless Women, Dies at 85,” from which the 1988 Boston Globe quote was taken.
In the next KazanToday:
How George Franklin Grant became the 1st African American Harvard Professor.