Dr. Elinor Fitch Griffin, a clinical psychologist and early childhood educator, founded Griffin Nursery School in 1955. Inspired by progressive educators like John Dewey, A.S. Neill, and Caroline Pratt, and trained by developmental and humanistic psychologists Bruno Bettelheim and Carl Rogers, Elinor Griffin decided to have a school that tended to children’s emotional and social well-being. She opened one of the first student-directed schools for preschool children, convinced that this age group was especially suited for self-directed exploration.
In 1982 Dr. Griffin published Island of Childhood, a study of the preschool years based on records from the school. Her book has been used as a text in early childhood education programs at Mills College and other institutions.
Elinor Griffin died in August 2000. In the hands several of her protégés—serving since her death as teachers, directors, and board members—the school continues to flourish. It has been so enduringly, lovingly, and intelligently designed that staff, enrollees, and alumni have all been moved to participate in its continuation.