In 1974, Kip Tiernan founded Rosie’s Place, the first emergency shelter for women in the United States. On Oct. 6, her legacy and commitment to helping the homeless was honored at a memorial dedication on Dartmouth Street between Boylston and Newbury streets.
A crowd gathered in front of the metal arched memorial to listen to several speakers who praised Tiernan’s work.
Rev. June Cooper, director of City Mission Boston and theologian in the City of Old South Church, called Tiernan “the quintessential urban minister.”
“We thank you God because it is this righteous anger that fueled her passion for life in her ministry and that ministry continues to save and transform lives of women and families in this city and beyond,” Cooper said. “May her legacy inspire us all to stand for what’s morally right today and not accept easy answers and half truths and lies.”
Mayor Marty Walsh also spoke highly of Tiernan and her “holistic approach” to helping the homeless. He spoke about the importance of providing food, shelter, and company to the homeless.
“Her voice was powerful, she took direct action, and she asked for help in solving problems and people immediately jumped on board,” Walsh said of Tiernan.
Walsh also told an anecdote about a civic meeting he attended when he was 21 years old. He said that Tiernan and other people from Rosie’s Place were talking about buying some homes on Mount Vernon Street and creating a program for women of color with AIDS and their families.
“I remember being in that meeting that night and I stood up and I supported the program,” Walsh said. “I understood there was something special here with this woman.”
Since then, Walsh has had many more connections with Tiernan, and said that since Rosie’s Place was founded, it “continues to embody Kip’s warmth, compassion, offering women a safe place with access to meals, housing, and opportunities to build successful lives.”
Tiernan came to Boston in her 20s to pursue advertising, but ended up founding the Boston Food Bank and cofounding other “vital organizations,” Walsh said.
He added that Tiernan’s legacy has made an impact on Boston, and taught people that homeless people are no different. “They’re people; we shouldn’t treat them differently, we shouldn’t talk about them differently, we shouldn’t view them differently,” he said. “They’re equal like us. Kip taught us that and other people here taught us that.”
Isabelle Stillger, a member of the Rosie’s Place Board of Directors, said “we’re here to celebrate a very unique memorial for a woman whose name has become virtually an eponym for social justice and truth to power.”
She said the biggest lesson she learned from Tiernan is that just one person truly can make a difference, and that she believes there’s a Kip Tiernan inside everyone.
“It’s my hope that all of you who stroll through this memorial will be reminded of our responsibility to each other. It’s my hope that we will each strive to make a difference in someone’s life,” Stillger said. “It’s my hope that teachers throughout the City of Boston and beyond make this memorial a teaching moment; a must see field trip for our children.”
Tiernan’s wife, Donna Pomponio, said she was grateful to the late Mayor Thomas Menino for designating the space for the memorial.
“I am very very proud to have the city acknowledge Kip’s work through this memorial,” Pomponio said. “Her efforts were tireless, as well as courageous, and her commitment for justice on behalf of the underserved population of Boston, and especially, especially the women of Rosie’s Place. Her love for the women of Rosie’s was unconditional. They were her family.”
Lastly, Fran Froehlich, Tiernan’s longtime collaborator, said that Tiernan taught her to look at things and say, “That’s not right. We can do better.”
Froehlich said that this memorial tells homeless men and women that they will not be forgotten. “Kip cried out for the people who could not cry out for themselves,” she said.
“May this memorial inspire others to stand up and be accountable for our brothers and sisters,” Froehlich said. “Boston and our country desperately need this kind of presence today.”