An Angel Silenced

Sixty-five years after her death, Emily Griffith’s legacy still influences Denver.

December 2012

It’s almost impossible to overstate the lasting impact that Emily Griffith’s life and school—now called the Emily Griffith Technical College—have had on Denver. The technical training school’s once-condemned building now takes up an entire city block downtown on Welton Street, across from the Colorado Convention Center. It offers more than 45 programs and 500-plus classes in a variety of subjects, all designed to prepare students for the workforce. Its English as a Second Language program is the oldest and largest in Colorado, with 3,000 students enrolled last year. A partnership with Plumbers Local Union 3 has continued since 1917. Although classes are not free, tuition costs less than at local community colleges. Original programs for skills such as welding and millinery (hat-making) still exist, and modern classes such as tax preparation and video editing have been added.

Griffith’s influence is so pervasive that it’s difficult to spend any time downtown and not interact with a graduate of her school. Its alumni have included chefs at the nearby Denver Athletic Club, hospitality workers at local hotels, and many others. The school’s average student is about 30 years old, and the classrooms are some of the most diverse in Denver. And at a time when graduates of other institutions are facing uncertain employment prospects, Emily Griffith routinely boasts an 80 percent placement rate, sometimes higher. “The biggest market for employees right now, not just locally but nationally, is at the trained technician level,” says school director Jeff Barratt, referring to the kind of graduates the school has produced for nearly a century. “They’re not outsourcing mechanics on your car. You still have somebody come in and replace your water heater.”

In short, the Emily Griffith Technical College simply helps our city run. “We’ve been an icon, literally a fixture in the Denver community, for 96 years now,” Barratt says. “We’ve served 1.6 million students since our inception, so that touches a lot of lives. Everywhere I go, every meeting I’ve been involved with, people will say ‘I have some tie to Emily Griffith.’ ”