Campus & Community

Tiernan papers come to Schlesinger Library

3 min read

Boston legend Kip Tiernan, founder of Rosie’s Place and the Boston Food Bank and co-founder of the Poor People’s United Fund, the Boston Women’s Fund, Health Care for the Homeless, and Community Works, has given the first installment of her papers to the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute.

“Kip Tiernan has lived a life of courage and creativity, not only inventing new ways to organize and assist the homeless and the urban poor but selflessly dedicating her own life to achieving social justice. The Schlesinger Library is honored to have her papers and to celebrate her wisdom and accomplishments,” said Nancy F. Cott, director of the Schlesinger Library and Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

For more information about the Tiernan Papers or to schedule an appointment to see the papers, please contact the Schlesinger Library at (617) 495-8647.

Including television interviews, news clippings, personal appointment books, and other documentation of Tiernan’s tireless efforts on behalf of the poor and homeless, her papers complement the distinguished collections already housed at the Schlesinger Library that document women’s work in promoting social welfare and services to the poor. Among those collections are the records of Rutland Corner House, North Bennett Street School, and Denison House. Similarly, Tiernan’s work for peace in Vietnam will add to the documentation of women activists such as Barbara Deming and Holly Near.

Tiernan was born in West Haven, Conn., where she was raised by her grandmother. After moving to Boston, she worked in public relations and advertising before devoting herself to the anti-war, civil rights, and anti-poverty work that centered at St. Philip’s and Warwick House in Boston’s South End. In response to the growing number of homeless and poor women, Tiernan founded Rosie’s Place in 1974, the first drop-in and emergency shelter for women in the United States. In subsequent years, its focus shifted from overnight sheltering and feeding to providing the services needed to help women “dig themselves out of untenable situations.”

In 1979, Tiernan and Fran Froehlich created the Boston Food Pantry, which was later incorporated as the Boston Food Bank. The following year, they founded the Poor People’s United Fund (PPUF), which sought to provide financial and advocacy support to grassroots organizations in the Greater Boston area. The Ethical Policy Project, an outgrowth of Tiernan’s and Froehlich’s work as fellows at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College in 1988-89, was recast as the PPUF in 2002, with a mission to change the public policies that deny access to basic human services to all Massachusetts residents. The recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards, Tiernan is an adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts.

“How fortunate for me that I was able to select ‘the edge’ as my personal geography so many years ago,” says Tiernan. “For poor people, ‘the edge’ is selected for them by those in power. Having selected my political/theological geography, I was able to help choreograph several life-giving organizations in Boston. Sheltering the homeless and feeding the hungry has remained my raison d’etre … trying to help set at liberty those who are oppressed is what I’m still working at!”