History of the College
Emily Griffith Technical College, formerly Emily Griffith Opportunity School, is Colorado's most unique technical college. We offer an extensive curriculum including more than two-dozen career-training certificate programs, establishing our reputation for being one of the region's most diverse learning environments. We've assisted more than 2 million students since our inception.
Opportunity School was founded in 1916, more than 100 years ago, and we still use the motto coined by Emily Griffith herself: For all who wish to learn. We welcome all people, regardless of age, race or education level, who want to expand their horizons and chart their own course for success.
An Emily Griffith documentary "A Door Unlocked: Emily Griffith and Her Triumphant Technical College," written and produced by Alexandra Guy and Francesca Clifford is now available to watch on YouTube. Click the play button to watch.
Vox Pop, a popular traveling radio show from 1932 - 1948 hosted by Parks Johnson, made a stop in Denver in January 1947. This episode features Emily Griffith, an educator in Denver, CO and the founder of Emily Griffith Opportunity School, which still operates today as Emily Griffith Technical College.
The entire episode also featured three Opportunity School students, but this excerpt contains just the introduction to Emily and her interview.
Emily's Early Years
Emily Griffith was born February 10 in the 1860s, in Cincinnati Ohio. The eldest of four children, with a frail mother and crippled father, Emily went to work at an early age to help supplement the family income.
At 14, she started teaching in a sod schoolhouse in Broken Bow, Nebraska. It was here that she first discovered that many of her students' parents did not know how to read, write or figure their bills. Many were immigrants and did not know the English language.
These realizations made a profound impression on Emily. Her dream of a school for adults was born. She envisioned a place where students could attend classes day or night and receive as much education as they wanted or needed. In 1895, the Griffith family moved to Denver, Colorado. Denver Public Schools hired Emily. She continued to work for the district until her retirement in 1933. Emily's warmth, sense of humor and teaching competence made her loved and respected by students and peers.
In 1915, as Emily helped with the Denver Post's annual distribution of clothing to the poor, she shared her dream with the Post's feature writer, Frances "Pinky" Wayne. "I want the age limit for admission lifted and classes so organized that a boy or girl working in a bakery, store, laundry, or any kind or shop, who has an hour or two to spare, may come to my school and study what he or she wants to learn to make life more useful. The same rule goes for older folks, too. I already have a name for the school. It is 'Opportunity'." Frances Wayne was excited by Emily's idea and began to write about it in The Denver Post. Soon talk of an Opportunity School was sweeping through Denver. The Denver Board of Education gave Emily the old, condemned Longfellow School located at 13th and Welton Streets.
For All Who Wish To Learn
On September 9, 1916, Emily's dream became reality. On the first day of classes, Emily personally greeted each student from the old rolltop desk by the front door. She hoped for a few students; more than 1,400 registered the first week! The school was open 13 hours a day, five days a week. Subjects included telegraphy, industrial millinery, typing, academic subjects, and English for those not born in the U.S. Emily's philosophy, "for all who wish to learn", remains as alive today as when she first opened the doors of the school which bears her name.
A History of Serving Soup
"A bowl of soup is served in the basement from 5:30-7:30 Free. This saves you time."
This was written on a blackboard inside the entrance to Opportunity School.
For two years the soup was prepared at home by Emily's mother and carried to the school in a water pail by Emily and her sister, Florence. The custom began in response to a boy fainting in class one evening. Emily felt he fainted because he was hungry, and that if he was hungry, there were probably others who were as well. Later on, a wealthy woman arranged for meat to be delivered daily to the school. Florence arrived at 2:00 in the afternoon to prepare the evening's soup. Two hundred bowls of soup were served each evening. Emily and Florence washed all the dishes themselves. Eventually, a woman was hired to do this.
Since then, the school has turned its efforts toward meeting technology demands of the 21st century. The school occupies an entire block in the heart of downtown Denver. Currently, approximately 10,000 students take advantage of classes taught by more than 150 instructors. The classes are offered day and night, many with an open entry/open exit format, would not be recognized by Miss Emily, but they would please her as they continue her mission. In all, she has touched the lives of more than 1,500,000 people through Technical College.
Emily Griffith's Accomplishments
- 1904-1908 Deputy State Superintendent of Schools
- 1910-1912 Deputy State Superintendent of Public Instruction
- 1927 Founded # 9 Pearl Street, a residence for homeless boys; now the Emily Griffith Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado
- 1985 Inducted into Colorado Business Hall of Fame
- 2000 Recipient of Mayor Wellington Webb's Millennium Award Selected as "Denver's Most Useful Citizen"
- Honored at the Colorado State Capitol building for her contribution to Colorado history; she is the only woman
Emily Griffith's Accolades
The Denver Kiwanian gave Emily this tribute in 1946, "Under the inspiration of her spiritual vision and work, the Emily Griffith Technical College was founded 'for all who wish to learn.' Her heart, as large as humanity, her generous, creative spirit, quickened the soul of Denver to high achievements. Because of its power to inspire, we keep the memory of what she has done vivid.
Because the way she pointed is now so clearly essential, we walk in it with increasing purpose." When visiting the Colorado capital building, you will find Emily standing humbly in her stained glass window among all the men selected for their contributions to Colorado history. She is the only woman. She was chosen for her impact upon the educational process, especially for adults. Her compassion, hard work, and vision made her a force able to change the futures of many.
Even after her death, Emily continues to earn accolades for what she accomplished. The Colorado Business Hall of Fame honored her as one of five people who "possess qualities of commitment, dedication and success to the business community and the state of Colorado". She was the only woman in the group. The award was for outstanding business achievement and leadership exemplifying the spirit of community giving. There would be few, if any, in the Denver community who have touched more lives than Emily Griffith.
An Unsolved Mystery
Emily Griffith History Links
- "Touching Tomorrow: The Emily Griffith Story,"written by Debra Faulkner.
- "Class Acts: Stories from Emily Griffith Technical College," by former Emily Griffith Administrator Carolyn Brink.
- Denver Public School's History page
- Denver Public Library Digital Collections
- Wikipedia's webpage on Emily Griffith Technical College
- Vox Pop Radio Show in January 1947 Featured Emily Griffith and Emily Griffith Opportunity School
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