Women’s History Month: Emily Griffith

March 29, 2019

Emily Griffith was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on February 10, 1868. The Griffiths were poor. Emily had to leave school after the eighth grade to help take care of her family. Her uncle ran a night school for adults, and inspired Emily to become a teacher herself. She took a job as a teacher in a sod house school in Nebraska. Emily realized that many of her students’ families were unable to read, write, or do simple math. Emily believed education was the only way to lift people from poverty. In 1894, an unusually harsh winter moved the Griffith’s to Denver. While in Denver, Emily was teaching in the Five Points neighborhood.

Five Points was home to Denver’s Hispanic, Jewish, Asian and African-American populations. Noticing that many of her students lived in extreme poverty, Emily dedicated her spare time to giving free lessons to her students’ parents and siblings. Emily’s work did not go unnoticed by her community, and in 1904 she became the Deputy State Superintendent of Schools. In 1909, Emily decided she missed teaching and returned to the classroom, teaching night classes for adults. In 1916, Emily’s dream came true when she opened the Opportunity School!

Emily Griffith with students outside the Opportunity School

Emily did everything she could to make her school accessible to working adults. The Opportunity School was open thirteen hours a day, so students could come to class around their work schedules. 

Everything taught at the Opportunity School was practical and there was no cost for. It was supported through the Denver Public School system and by donations from Emily’s many friends. 

In 1927, with the support of the Kiwanis Club of Denver Emily Griffith opens Number 9 Pearl St. as “a home for the boy who needs one.” Emily went out of her way to make sure all her students’ needs were met and in the first four years, 233 young men attend school and work while enjoying the homelike atmosphere of this safe haven. In 1933 over a million students had attended Emily’s Opportunity School. Shortly after, Emily retired and moved to Pinecliff, Colorado to live with her sister. In 1947 the two women were found murdered and Emily’s death is still a mystery.

Number 9 Pearl St.

Emily’s mission did not stop with her death. In 1964, Number 9 Pearl St., now called Emily Griffith Center, relocates to 1260 Franklin St. in order to grow their influence. Ten years later as the nation begins to recognize the enormity of child abuse and neglect, Emily Griffith Center changes its overall focus from a group home to a treatment center, and an on-site residential school begins. In 2000, Mayor Webb honored Griffith with a Millennium Award. The award celebrates a person who “made the most significant and lasting contributions to the citizens of Denver since its founding.”

Over ninety years ago, Griffith Centers for Children, Chins Up was founded by Miss Emily Griffith.  She was an educator, a visionary, and an advocate for children.  Her mission was to provide children with an education and the opportunity to become self-supporting. To do this, she established a home where children would find shelter, companionship, and sympathetic guidance.  Miss Emily’s vision was to inspire children to believe in themselves as a way to overcome their problems.  Her vision guided the creation of Griffith Centers for Children, Chins Up’s diverse programs and continually pushes us forward in providing innovative services for all members of our beloved communities.

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