A teacher in Broken Bow, Nebraska, at only 13, Emily Griffith became convinced that the children she taught there and later in Denver’s poorest neighborhoods would never do well until their parents acquired a basic education.
Adopting her teaching methods to pupil’s needs was an old habit for Emily Griffith. Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1868, Emily completed her elementary grades there. When she was thirteen, her father moved his wife and four children to 160-acre farm near Broken Bow, Nebraska.
Emily enrolled in a one room schoolhouse where all eight grades were taught. When the current teacher left the school to marry, Emily stepped in as the only possible successor. The young girl quickly learned to deal with unruly older boys and had to stay ahead of more advanced students. The next year, she applied to the superintendent of county education for a regular teaching assignment, and passed the exam.
Emily’s father John, who was lame and failed at farming, became the family’s main support. The family moved to Denver in 1895 and Emily became a substitute teacher in the Denver Public Schools. At the same time, she attended Denver Normal School. Although She never went to college, she taught six grade and worked her way up to eight grade.
As busy as she was, Emily always worked individually with her pupils and encouraged them. Before long, the educational hierarchy noted her inspired teaching and in 1904 appointed her to the post of state deputy superintendent of schools with an office in the capitol building. But Emily missed the pupils, so she returned to teaching in 1908 at the Twenty-fourth Street School where she faced her greatest challenge: meeting the needs of the parents as well as the children. She assured them with proper training, they could earn a living.
In 1915 she appealed to the Denver School Board for permission to open a revolutionary school that would provide a free education to any adult who needed a second chance. September 9, 1916, was the opening day of the world’s first school geared to provide basic adult education and training in marketable skills. Griffith believed that everyone deserved an education regardless of age, race, gender or background. Griffith chose the name Opportunity School and hoped that 200 adults would enroll during that first semester. Instead, 2,389 signed up for classes. The school was later renamed the Emily Griffith Opportunity School, and Emily’s concept became world-renowned and much emulated. In June 2011, Emily Griffith Opportunity School officially changed its name to Emily Griffith Technical College. It is also affiliated with DPS as an alternative high school.
When Griffith retired in 1933, she moved to Pinecliff to live with her sister. On June 18, 1947 the two women were found murdered. The crime was never solved. In 1976, Griffith was honored with a stained -glass window portrait in the Colorado State Capitol.