Philanthropist and visionary innovator, a lay leader for over fifty years, Florence Zacks Melton has helped build institutions that have improved the quality and broadened the scope of Jewish education throughout North America. Together with her family, she has also been cited for outstanding contributions to the welfare of the Jewish people in Israel, and, in particular, to the support of the Hebrew University.
Born on November 11, 1911, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Florence Melton credits her immigrant bubbe (grandmother) who sparked her soul with Jewish values and taught her menshlikhkayt (being a decent person). Music was a vital part of her early life, and she studied music, art, and ballet. She married Aaron Zacks in 1930. They had two sons, Gordon Zacks, who has distinguished himself on a national level through his activities in the United Jewish Appeal, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and many other organizations, and Barry, a restaurateur who died in 1990.
In 1946, she and her husband founded the R.G. Barry Corporation, the largest manufacturing company for soled slippers in the world. Her invention of the use of foam in footwear revolutionized the industry, and she continues to serve as a consultant for project development and design. Her love and concern for children have motivated much of her career in the business world as well as her involvement in Jewish education. She established a foundation to provide prostheses for children whose parents could not afford to purchase them. For many years she was a leader in her community, and was the first woman invited to serve on the Board of the Huntington National Bank. She also started the first program for Meals on Wheels in Columbus, Ohio.
Aaron Zacks died in 1965. In 1968, Florence married Samuel Mendel Melton, an engineer who built a highly successful business and became a community leader in Columbus with a special mission for Jewish education. In 1959, he had endowed the Melton Center for Research in Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Melton served as a founding member of CAJE in 1975 and continues to support this effort. She is the creator of Columbus’s Discovery Program, which has found innovative ways to keep children involved in Jewish education through their high school years. She is a distinguished member of the Commission on Jewish Education in North America.
Melton is best known for having created and supported the successful community-based two-year program known as the Florence Melton Adult Mini School for adult learners. The program operates in over twenty-five communities in the United States, Canada, and Australia. Its graduates receive certificates from the Hebrew University’s Melton Centre, which was responsible for developing the unique curriculum. She is currently working on the establishment of Reading Corners in the Jewish community centers of Boca Raton and Columbus.
In recognition of her many achievements and great contributions, Florence Melton has received many honors and awards from B’nai B’rith, including the Janusz Korczak Humanitarian Award from Kent State University. In 1991, she was awarded an honorary Ph.D. from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
Florence Melton died on January 8, 2007.
How to cite this page
Ettenberg, Sylvia C.. "Florence Zacks Melton." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 21, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/melton-florence-zacks>.