This interview by Carol Folkerth is part of the Columbus Jewish Historical
Society Oral History Project. The recording was made in 1983.
Interviewer: What was your address as a child?
Mellman: Our first address was on Pine Street, a short alley – like
street a short distance north of Livingston.
Interviewer: Somebody said Pine Alley
Mellman: Maybe he’s got our name in here, because…here you are…
Rosenbloom, that’s a cousin of mine.)
Interviewer: Anna Mellman?
Mellman: Anna Mellman, she’s dead. She’s the sister of Rose
Mellman here, and you have only one person , Shalom Kramer, he’s an
old-timer. Anyway, that’s the street.
Interviewer: What was your parent’s name?
Mellman: Abraham J. and Rosa.
Interviewer: Where were you born?
Mellman:. Russia in the province of Minsk. You want the name of the
Interviewer: Is that Belarus? – White Russia. What city are you
Mellman: My grandmother was from Galicia.
Interviewer: Now, were you an only child? How many brothers and
sisters did you have?
Mellman: Oh, no, I’m the second of eight children. Six boys and two
Interviewer: And when did you come to America?
Mellman: June of 1910 during a streetcar strike.
Interviewer: You remember the streetcar strike. How old were you?
Interviewer: How old were you when you started public school?
Mellman: In the fall of that year I was ten.
Interviewer: You were ten. And what grade did they put you in at
Mellman: Frankly, I don’t quite recall. But I do know that I
graduated Fulton Street School in 1914.
Interviewer: Four years later.
Mellman: I skipped the fifth grade.
Interviewer: Do you remember being in the with some younger kids? You
were in with the younger ones at the beginning.
Mellman: Of course, there were younger children in the lower grades,
and they probably thought I was too old for those grades and I moved up
Interviewer: Did they give you any kind of exam, or did they-
Mellman: No, no.
Interviewer: Were you in any special English classes that you
Interviewer: Where did you learn most of your English?
Mellman: From other children that lived on the street.
Interviewer: From other people. Did any teachers or school
administrators ever try to work on your accent or make your English more
the way they wanted you to talk?
Mellman: I don’t recollect any instruction of that type, but I,
together with others in my category, picked up English in a relatively
Interviewer: What language was most often spoken in school?
Interviewer: What language did you speak at home?
Interviewer: Did you ever have any experiences of responding in
English when your parents would ask you something in Yiddish, or was
there a mixture at home?
Mellman: We did make an effort to speak in English as much as
possible. Both Mother and Father needed the practice in English.
Interviewer: So they would try it out on the kids. What were your
Mellman: My father was a Hebrew teacher.
Interviewer: Your mother was basically —
Mellman: A housewife. A housewife. She later became active in a way.
She bought and sold several parcels of real estate..
Interviewer: Do you remember any books or papers that they read?
Mellman: Oh, yes. My father subscribed to Yiddish newspapers from New
Interviewer: Did The Forward buy everybody out?
Mellman: No, I don’t think The Forward bought them out, but
they did survive the others. There was a morning journal, Tageblatt, and
The Forward. The Forward was a big influence in Americanizing
Interviewer: So then, you would occasionally teach your parents
English words that you had learned at school, or any American History?
Mellman: My father learned some American History in the process of
becoming a naturalized American citizen.
Interviewer: So you would perhaps bring home some English words. Were
you often absent from school?
Mellman: Only in case of illness. We were not the type to play hookey.
We’re a rather serious group of people.
Interviewer: Were you absent on Jewish holidays?
Mellman: Oh, yes, my parents were Orthodox.
Interviewer: Were you ever penalized for being absent by your peers?
Mellman: No. Both the teachers and the principal were very
sympathetic and helpful to these children.
Interviewer: Now these teachers and principals were not Jewish.
Mellman: No, the teachers were of German descent. Two sisters –
Catherine was the oldest and Pauline was younger. Then there was Belle Scott – she was the
principal. She was very, very helpful to me .
Interviewer: In what ways was she especially helpful that you
Mellman: She was very sympathetic toward her students.
Interviewer: Did you work before or after school?
Mellman: Oh yes, I sold newspapers. I worked on the market and sold
Interviewer: Did your brothers and sisters work?
Mellman: All my sisters and my youngest brother were American – born.
All the others were born in Europe. My mother came over here in 1910.
There were four brothers already here.
Interviewer: Did you want to go to school?
Mellman: We sure did – we wanted to learn. I don’t have to tell you
that I’m of Jewish descent. The primary aim of Jewish parents was to
educate their children. So they sacrificed everything to do that.
Interviewer: Did your sisters go to school as much as the boys
Mellman: They finished high school.
Interviewer: Do you remember ever feeling different between yourself
or some of your friends maybe and some of the other American kids in the
class, the American – born kids, perhaps?
Mellman: Not particularly. No, we mixed pretty well in school
Interviewer: You mentioned that you would pick up English words from
some of the other kids.
Mellman: We learned most of our English from mixing with others.
Interviewer: Did you also learn how to dress in the American style,
Mellman: That came naturally. Of course you conformed to the
Interviewer: Did you have any public school experience that you
remember, or your most memorable one? Would you tell me a little bit
Mellman: In grade school? This may be a little humorous – I don’t
know if I should repeat it because the teacher that’s responsible for
it used to joke about it. Her name is Gizella. Her maiden name was
Trehey. Esther Trehey. She later married a teacher named Zeller. She
took a liking to the foreign students and worked with them very closely
and I suppose that was one reason that she promoted me. She skipped me
in the fifth grade. In later years I would joke about it because I
missed a lot of math, which I found it difficult to make up, and I would
tell her. She would say, “Lawyers don’t need any math.”
Well, it turned out that she continued teaching at Fulton and
completed her teaching experience at St. Mary’s, now known as Ohio
Dominican College, and we kept in touch. She also worked as an examiner
for the Labor Department during the war when they had to check the
records of employers that would show if they were complying with the
labor laws, the back-to-school work hours.
So it happened that she checked the records for a client of mine and she
had to call me for some information. We renewed our friendship at that point and from time to time I knew
where she was and what she was doing, and later, when her husband died
and she needed legal services, she came to me. So from being her student
I became her lawyer. She died in November of 1967, and she lived over
here on Stanwood Road.
She was up in years, of course, and had a heart condition. My wife
would cook her meals, especially supper. And the day she died – it was
four o’clock in the afternoon. I took dinner over to her. I didn’t
suspect anything might happen, and at six o’clock she called and said,
“I can’t catch my breath.” My wife came over, took her to the bathroom and then put her on the
bed. In about 15 minutes she was gone.
Interviewer: Such an interesting story.
Mellman: She remembered us in her will, and in the paper that Ohio
Dominican publishes, they had an item about it. She was a devout
Catholic and involved herself in ecumenical affairs long before
ecumenics became a fad or words to that effect. And they regarded her
very highly. And my wife took a library course there at St. Mary’s,
(later Ohio Dominican College.) She was a very special person. (Small
talk on tape recording, appearing unrelated to interview at this point.)
Interviewer: How did your parents feel about America? How did they
accept America as a new home?
Mellman: They regarded America as a haven and a refuge, compared to
Interviewer: Did they feel like it was going to be a permanent home?
Interviewer: You mentioned that they felt that your education in the
public schools was very important. Is that right, and they made
sacrifices in order to keep you in school.
Mellman: That’s because the father’s income was relatively low
because of the nature of his work. I had to work to supplement the
Interviewer: But they still managed to keep you in school all the
time. Were there ever conflicts between you and your parents regarding
something you might learn in school, something they wanted you – a
different way they wanted to teach you –
Mellman: They did not interfere in any way with the curriculum or
anything assigned in school.
Interviewer: Basically the things you learned in school were fine
Mellman: Oh, yes.
Interviewer: Did your parents participate in PTA or –
Mellman: In those days I don’t recall any PTA.
Interviewer: Did they come to school to see the teachers, or have a
conference about you ?
Mellman: I don’t recall a necessity for a conference in those days.
Interviewer: Did a teacher or a school administrator ever suggest to
you that you might change your name?
Mellman: My name is fairly simple. I’ll tell you this – there was a
slight change from the Russian spelling to the American spelling. In
Russia it was Millman – pronounced soft L – Mehl-man. My uncles changed
it, matter of fact, when they came here.
Interviewer: They just decided on their own to change
Mellman: Apparently so. We never inquired. It’s just a fact that it
was changed by them.
Interviewer: Did they give their children American – type first
Mellman: My first name? No, in fact we children that were born here,
particularly three children that were born here. The younger boy was
named David, and the girls, one was Freda and the other was Flora.
Interviewer: So he never made an effort to change them to American
for any reason.
Mellman: Some kids’ names you wouldn’t be aware of and wouldn’t
recognize the Jewish aspect at all.
Interviewer: Do you remember any patriotic ceremonies at school?
Mellman: Specific holidays – Flag Day was observed. We had an
Interviewer: Remember what you would do on those days?
Mellman: They would explain the significance of the holiday, and on
other occasions, such as the fourth of July.
Interviewer: Would they raise the flag every day, or did the kids say
Mellman: The flag was raised every day. We didn’t say the Pledge of
Allegiance. That evolved after the first world war.
Interviewer: Did you ever have any feelings about patriotic
ceremonies one way or the other, I mean positive or negative?
Mellman: No difference in feelings. We went along with the rest.
Interviewer: Was there ever any prayer in school? How were your
grades, how did you do?
Mellman: They must have been good or they wouldn’t have skipped me.
I recall being in the third and fourth grades.
Interviewer: Did you ever take – maybe even in high school – ever
take foreign languages?
Mellman: Yes. Two years of German in High School. That was the only
foreign language there. Later, at Ohio State I took Spanish.
Interviewer: What was your favorite subject in elementary school?
Mellman: I had more than one. I liked history and math.
Interviewer: Even though you felt that sometimes you were cheated
there, you liked math?
Mellman: I was determined to learn as much arithmetic as possible,
but she short changed me – she skipped me.
Interviewer: What about in high school?
Mellman: In High School, still history was a favorite. I was pretty
good at shorthand. I worked part-time as a secretary. I went to a
commercial high school.
Interviewer: You took typing there? Was that under a title vocational
or manual training?
Mellman: No, it was called The High School of Commerce. It was since
changed to Central High School which is now located across the river.
Interviewer: Did a lot of your friends go to this High School of
Mellman: Rose Mellman, my cousin, was there. I think she was a year
or two ahead of me.
Interviewer: This was a high school that a lot of your friends
attended. What was your least favorite subject?
Mellman: I liked them all. German, English, History, Bookkeeping.
Shorthand and typewriting. Economics, Penmanship.
Interviewer: Did you have anything like Civics?
Mellman: That was American History – not Civics as such.
Interviewer: You just liked school.
Mellman: I think I did. I wouldn’t mind taking some adult education
courses, but my eyes won’t take it.
Interviewer: Did you have any music or art classes?
Mellman: I had advertising classes. I had a course in art in grade
school, I forgot. It was at Ohio Avenue School – I had to walk a mile
for it. It was manual training, working with wood, making different
items. Only boys took these courses. Not every school was equipped.
Interviewer: Did the teacher ever lecture you or your class on the
hygiene or health topics?
Mellman: No sex education! I’m trying to think whether we had any
instruction in hygiene. Periodically, once a week or once every two
weeks, a German – born teacher – I don’t remember whether it was a man
or a woman, used to make the rounds of various schools for exercise day.
We would open the windows and the class would engage in all sorts of
exercise practice. Then we had music classes.
Interviewer: You finished elementary, high school and college. Right?
Mellman: In 1914, I completed grade school. In 1919 I stayed out of
school for a year. I graduated from Commerce High School and then I went
to Ohio State.
Interviewer: Did you receive any Jewish education after school hours?
Mellman: Well, my father being a Hebrew teacher, but he did not give
me too much time because he had to go to various homes to teach, but
every now and then he’d help me, but as far as Hebrew education was
concerned, I really acquired it since I was six years old.
Interviewer: Is there anything else you remember about your public
school experience that I haven’t touched on?
Mellman: We used to do a lot of ball – playing with a racket – ball,
so no one would get hurt.
Interviewer: Well, that’s all I need. I really appreciate your
helping me out here. This concludes the interview with Robert Mellman for the Columbus
Jewish Historical Society Oral History Project.