In 1974, upon discovering that many homeless women in Boston were dressing up as men to get into homeless shelters, Kip Tiernan founded Rosie’s Place, one of the very first shelters for women in the United States.
Born in West Haven, Connecticut, on June 17, 1926 Tiernan lost both of her parents by age eleven and went to live with her maternal grandmother during the Great Depression. During this time, Tiernan was modeled the genorosity that would go on to inspire her life work—her grandmother opened up her kitchen to feed others who had nothing of their own.
After being expelled from her Catholic boarding school, Tiernan moved to Boston in her late teens to work at a newspaper. She went on to be a Mad Men-esque advertising copywriter (see our Feministory on Mary Wells!). She was also an alcoholic.
In the late ’60s, Tiernan began going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and then found community by going to church. Her recovery from alcoholism reawakened the lessons of genorisity that she’d learned from her grandmother and she quit her lucrative job in advertising to move into Warwick House, a social justice ministry. While at Warwick House, Tiernan saw that while the city provided homeless shelters for men, there was nothing in place for women. She traveled to Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York to see what other cities were doing to protect homeless women and discovered that, like Boston, there was really nothing happening to protect homeless women because homelessness wasn’t considered “a women’s issue.”
Having seen many women on the street resorting to dressing as men to access resources, Tiernan made it her own personal goal to provide them their own space off the streets. With the permission of the city, Tiernan converted an abondoned supermarket into one of the first homeless shelters specifically designed to serve women in the United States. Rosie’s Place opened in 1974 with the mission to provide some food, clothes, and a place to sleep for homeless women.
Tiernan injected passionate and empathetic advocacy to her outreach. Her previous work in advertising also made her an extremely articulate and persuasive lobbyist and helped her raise awareness of the work she was doing. Tiernan died on July 2, 2011, leaving behind a legacy of work that touched the lives of so many women and inspired so many activists after her.
Today, Rosie’s Place has expanded to help homeless women access resources from domestic violence support groups, meals, and community. It has been used as a model for women’s shelters all across the United States and beyond.
Previously: Mad Woman Mary Wells