On the sunny fall Saturday afternoon of Oct. 6, hundreds of people gathered in Back Bay to view the unveiling of an art sculpture that honored Kip Tiernan, founder of the women’s shelter Rosie’s Place.
The sculpture consists of three arches that stand about 12 feet tall, with Tiernan’s quotes engraved into the piece for visitors to read as they walk through and around it.
“It’s a permanent piece of public art so if somebody doesn’t come here today to see it they can come any single day until forever,” said Sue Marsh, president of Rosie’s Place. “Kip Tiernan was a passionate advocate and activist on behalf of the poor and homeless people, so we’re really happy that everyone’s here to mark the dedication with us.”
The sculpture stands right by the Copley station on Dartmouth Street on the block between Newbury Street and Boylston Street. There were activities like face painting, bracelet making, and rock decorating at the dedication. Food trucks parked on the block, and before the live jazz music burst through the air, a series of speakers celebrated the late activist.
Featured speakers included Boston mayor Marty Walsh and Tiernan’s spouse, Donna Pomponio. Those who have worked closely with Tiernan, like Fran Froehlich of Poor People’s United Fund and Isabelle Stillger of Rosie’s Place board of directors, also paid tribute.
“Kip was an inspiration to me. We have to have more people like that to stand against the tide of everything that’s going on,” said June Cooper, a local theologian and the executive director of City Mission. “We have lives to save. We have people to save.”
Tiernan fought for economic and social justice for roughly three decades. She founded Rosie’s Place back in 1974 to provide shelter for poor and homeless women. She’s also 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 also co-founded the Poor People’s United Fund. Tiernan lost her battle with cancer in July 2011. The memorial is the latest tribute to her legacy.
Gary Bailey, who is a professor of social work at Simmons University, a community activist, and Tiernan’s long-time friend, highlighted the symbolism of the sculpture’s location, describing the Back Bay intersection as a space that sits between two worlds: one of wealth and one of the poverty.
“The privilege and those who are in the fringes: those are the two worlds here in the Back Bay, and here in Boston. Boston is becoming so economically polarized. It is the land of the haves and the city of the have nots,” he told Spare Change News.
Bailey says Tiernan was his dear friend, having worked with her when he was chair of the board of the AIDS Action committee.“She understood the intersection of addiction and poverty and homelessness and creating a safe space for women to be able to be,” he said.
Rachel Houk Seeger is a creative director at a Citizens Bank who volunteers her design and marketing skills to organizations like Rosie’s Place, where she met Tiernan. “Kip really fought tirelessly for those who did not have a way to help themselves, and she gave them a warm bed, a warm shower, a warm meal, and really tried to change the world for a better place,” she said.
The memorial is among only a handful in Boston that’s dedicated to women.
“This is one that really should make women proud and see the difference that they can make in their community,” Seeger said. She looks forward to reminiscing back on this event with her 11-year-old daughter years from now.
When her daughter asked her whether the sculpture was permanent, her response was, “It is. You will be walking through this when you’re 90 and you will remember the day that they dedicated it to a woman that we all try to live up to.”