Best known for founding Rosie’s Place, Kip Tiernan was at the center of the fight for economic and social justice for nearly three decades. Kip advocated, protested and lobbied for affordable and accessible housing, health care and education as well as jobs, civil rights and peace. Drawing from her early roots in the radical Catholic left movement, Kip personified the underlying philosophy of Rosie’s Place, that together we can change the world if we are only willing to care enough and, in her own words, “to take the risk of being human.”
A video tribute to Kip Tiernan created in 2011.
Born in West Haven, Connecticut, Kip lost both her parents by the time she was 11 and was raised by her grandmother. Always unconventional, she took flying lessons at age 16 and began her interest in jazz. She arrived in Boston in her early 20s and met with writers and reporters who encouraged her to pursue a career in advertising. For the next 20 years, Kip had a fruitful writing career, creating mail order catalogues, direct mail pieces and all varieties of ads. She received a McGraw/Hill award for a public relations campaign for a corporate insurance company. She also ventured into writing and producing musical reviews and, at the time of her death, was rewriting a play about housing, hope and humor she penned two decades earlier.
Kip also wrote articles concerning issues important to the Catholic left that appeared in numerous local papers, including The Boston Globe. In the mid-60s Kip joined the team ministry at St. Philip’s/Warwick House, which was involved in the civil rights and anti-war movements. Her work took her into housing projects, mental institutions, jails and hospitals, where she saw firsthand the effects of de-institutionalization and the lack of a coherent public policy to address the needs of poor and homeless people.
In 1974, Kip founded Rosie’s Place in response to the increasing numbers of women without services in the area. Rosie’s Place provided poor and homeless women with warmth, pots of piping hot coffee, nutritious meals, a safe place to rest from the dangerous streets, and perhaps most comforting–companionship. Kip’s vision led Rosie’s Place to grow over 40 years from simply providing shelter to offering a multitude of on-site opportunities for thousands of women each year.
Kip’s legacy also includes her role as a founder of the Boston Food Bank and co-founder of the Boston Women’s Fund, Health Care for the Homeless and Community Works. In 1980 she co-founded the Poor People’s United Fund, a “spare change” funding source for grass roots community groups involved in issues of homelessness, hunger and access to justice. In 1990 she established the Ethical Policy Institute, a multi-disciplinary community of people engaged in political analysis, economics and community activism and taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts. A vibrant public speaker and social commentator, Kip lectured at hundreds of high schools, colleges, churches and conferences and published articles in national as well as local publications.
Kip Tiernan’s papers are available at the Schlesinger Library at The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University.