Whittier has a long history of providing a quality education for the children of Northeast Denver. The school was named for the abolitionist poet John Greenleaf Whittier. John Greenleaf Whittier was an American Quaker poet and advocate of the abolition of slavery in the United States. Whittier is remembered particularly for his anti-slavery writings, as well as his book Snow-Bound.
The city’s first African-American teacher, Marie Anderson Greenwood, was hired by the Denver school system to teach first grade at Whittier Elementary School in 1938. She was hired under a three-year probationary agreement, with the understanding that the school system would not hire another black until she passed her probation. Her success opened the school district to many African-American teachers.
Mrs. Jessie Whaley Maxwell (1909-2002) was the first African-American Administrator in Denver Public Schools and the state of Colorado. Mrs. Maxwell believed that every child deserved an opportunity to learn and she encouraged all students to strive for excellence. Mrs. Maxwell was named Principal of Whittier Elementary School in 1955, where she served until 1966. She then became Principal of Columbine Elementary School until her retirement in 1972.
The original Whittier School (now demolished) consisted of a three-story red brick building facing Marion Street, with entrances on the southeast and northeast corners. The school’s grand scale, spacious central hall, and decorative elements made Whittier one of Roeschlaub’s most exuberant schools.
Roeschlaub was invited to present the plans and photographs of Whittier Elementary School at the World Industrial and Cotton Centennial Exhibition in New Orleans in 1884. In 1885, the School District Number One report noted, “the finest view in Denver . . . may be obtained from the roof . . . a board walk is provided for their accommodation.”
A north wing was added in 1888, a south wing in 1894, and a gymnasium in 1934 (which remains today). In 1970, Langhart, McGuire and Hastings designed the modern building, and the original school was torn down.