Emily Griffith At 100: Exhibit Reveals Past Educational Tools

By Alan Gionet

DENVER (CBS4)– If beauty takes commitment, this is about the clearest evidence there ever was. An exhibit on the 5th floor of the main Denver Public Library on Broadway takes you back in a way that is sometimes painful.

Emily Griffith Technical College is celebrating 100 years this year and a new exhibit shows you some incredible relics of education. One of them was a device used to give women permanents in the first half of the 1900s.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“So there was a rod, a metal rod that they rolled up in the hair,” explains artist Linda Campbell who created the exhibit. “And then they clipped these onto that rod. And then when my mom saw the poster for the exhibit she said ‘I remember having my hair done with one of those!’ and it took all day I guess it was very painful because it was so hot.”

It does not look fun, but the exhibit is. Campbell says they found it when they went searching in the old Emily Griffith Opportunity School at 13th and Welton.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Campbell came up with a lot of odd items used to instruct generations of students in Denver, like curling irons that look like something that would be used in medieval torture.

The exhibit includes all kinds of tools used to instruct students in the history of Emily Griffith and relics of a time when computers were unheard of in science fiction.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

How about this: “A child’s real skull covered in plastic because they want to be able to have their students learn how the jaw moves and learn how to photograph a real human jaw.”

That one might have an ewwww factor. But it’s all fascinating.

Emily Griffith was able to open her school on Sept. 9, 1916.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

In celebration, the school and local dignitaries will open a time capsule from the old school at 11 a.m. Friday in the lobby of the new campus at 1860 Lincoln Street. No one knows what’s there. But it too might make it into the exhibit at the library.

Even as a young teacher, Emily Griffith envisioned a place where students could go to class day or night to learn the things that could lead directly to jobs. She became a legend in education in Denver when the school district allowed her to open her school. Many generations of students have given credit where credit is due in helping them shape their careers and lives.

Part of the exhibit includes a wall where former students can add pictures of their teachers. There’s a map showing how immigration has changed over the years where Campbell is inviting students to add a pin from their native country.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

“Most of the immigrants came from Europe back then, and now you can see already that they tend to come more from Africa and South America,” said Campbell.

There’s also a dress Emily wore to a radio interview before her sad and untimely death.

“She was murdered and it’s still an unsolved mystery. She was murdered in 1947 in a cabin in Pinecliffe and this was after she had retired from the school, and she lived there with her disabled sister,” said Campbell.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

The story behind her killing and about the man who remains the prime suspect to this day are also at the exhibit.

Admission to the exhibit is free and those who tour it can celebrate the school and the life of a woman who made so much difference.

LINKS: Denver Public Library

Emily Griffith Technical College

Alan Gionet is anchor of the CBS4 Morning News and reports on a wide variety of issues and “Good Question” stories. He started at CBS4 in 1994. Follow Alan on Twitter @AlanGTV.

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