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Women’s Suffrage in Iowa: A Digital Collection

Guide to the Archival Collections Used to Compile this Online Resource

Finding information in archival collections related to women’s suffrage in Iowa can be compared to a treasure hunt.

Some collections, such as the Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission and Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records, are obvious starting points because both organizations were known to be heavily involved in the suffrage movement.

Others, such as the papers of Ellen Mowrer Miller (a nineteenth century pioneer woman), contain brief nuggets of suffrage information in diaries and letters. The Women’s Suffrage in Iowa Digital Collection strives to bring users a taste of the variety of information about women’s suffrage that has been preserved in the Iowa Women’s Archives and other institutions across the state.

This guide gives a brief explanation of each collection used to create the digital collection and gives researchers an idea of what else is available in the archival collections.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, publishing standards like page numbers were not very standardized. Making these resources readable for a twenty-first century computer database and accessible for generations of future users can be a challenge. Therefore, digitization decisions made by IWA staff have been included in the collection descriptions. One hint for researchers is to make sure to look at the digital image for page numbers when preparing a citation. The page numbers in the navigation menu are for the computer and may not reflect the actual page number of the physical object.

For further suggestions on a wealth of local archival and special collections resources as well as books and journal articles, visit our Resources page.

Iowa Women's Archives
University of Iowa Special Collections Department
Iowa State University Special Collections Department
State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines
State Historical Society of Iowa, Iowa City


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Margaret Atherton Bonney papers. 1810-1992. 1.25 linear feet.

Margaret Atherton Bonney was a historian and editor at the State Historical Society of Iowa in Iowa City. One of the people she researched was Mary Jane Whitely Coggeshall (1836-1911), known as “The Mother of Woman Suffrage in Iowa.” Included in Bonney’s research files are an undated photograph of Mary Jane Coggeshall and several brochures from Coggeshall’s posthumous induction into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990. Photocopies Bonney made of primary source documents from other repositories are not included in the digital collection, but are available to researchers at IWA. She did much of her research on Coggeshall using the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Collection at the State Historical Society of Iowa in Des Moines.

Lucille Ketchum Carter papers. 1936-2003. 1 linear foot.

Lucille Ketchum Carter grew up in Missouri and graduated from nursing school at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa). Later she actively campaigned for her husband, Iowa Congressman Steven V. Carter. In undated writings, she describes the first time her mother, Matilda Jane Ketchum, voted and how that experience influenced her own civic activities throughout her life.

Cary Club of Marion, Iowa records. 1883-1980. 1.5 linear feet.

The Cary Club of Marion, Iowa was founded in 1878 to give women an outlet for intellectual improvement. Discussions and programs were held twice a month on a variety of topics including book reviews, historical subjects and current events such as suffrage. The minutes and programs included in the digital collection contain brief mentions of suffrage and women in politics in the 1900s, but also provide insight into how women’s clubs at all levels were discussing the issues of the day and organizing around common causes. The October 5, 1915 entry about the status of women includes an editorial comment from the secretary, which is a rare occurrence in club minutes from this time period.

Jennifer Riggs Cosson papers. 1890-1943. 10 linear inches.

Jennifer Riggs Cosson attended Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa and graduated in 1899 with a bachelor’s degree in education. While she was there, she wrote a speech entitled “The American Girl of Today,” in which she argued that women should not agitate for reform because it would come in its own time. In other speeches, she urged women should be determined in their pursuit of the ballot, but she never agreed with militant actions such as parades or demonstrations (“Why Women Should Ask for the Ballot”, undated).

Jennifer Cosson became active in civic affairs, serving on the Des Moines Parks Board, the Simpson College Board, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) committee, P.E.O., and the Ladies Legislative League.

In 1909, her husband, George Cosson, was elected to the Iowa Senate, and from 1911 to 1917 he held the office of Attorney General of the State of Iowa. In 1909, George Cosson is mentioned in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of Iowa Proceedings as supporting suffrage legislation. The bill he supported, however, quickly died. His papers are located in the University of Iowa Special Collections Department.

Gwendolyn Wilson Fowler. 1905-1996. 5.50 linear feet.

Gwendolyn Fowler (1907 - 1997) was the first African American woman to obtain a pharmaceutical degree and to be officially registered as a pharmacist in the state of Iowa. She was a program analyst for the United State Foreign Service in Vietnam in the 1950s before returning to Des Moines and working as a pharmacist at Broadlawns Hospital.

Fowler was a lifetime member of both the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the African Methodist Episcopal Church. She was also a member of the Des Moines Women’s Club and in 1987 was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. The digital collection contains a sympathy note for Fowler’s mother, Fannie Robinson Wilson, from the Des Moines Suffrage Club, but includes no more documentation specifically pertaining to suffrage. Various obituaries of Fowler’s friends and family members provide insight into the lives of African Americans in Iowa during this time, including membership in suffrage clubs such as the Mary Church Terrell Club.

Mary Ankeny Hunter papers. 1940. 1 item.

Mary Ankeny Hunter was involved in the Polk County Woman Suffrage Society (later the Des Moines Political Equality Club), the League of Women Voters of Iowa, the Votes for Women League and the Polk County League of Women Voters. Beginning in 1922, she served as secretary of the Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission, eventually holding the vice presidential and presidential offices. She was president when the memorial at the Iowa State Capitol was completed in 1936. This autobiographical sketch provides some information on major suffrage players in Iowa, but her correspondence can be found in the Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission records in the Iowa Women's Archives.

Iowa Federation of Women’s Clubs. 1853-2006. 13 linear feet.

Organized in 1893, by the 1920s, the Iowa Federation of Women’s Clubs (IFWC) had 810 clubs with over 40,000 members. The IFWC’s goal was to connect clubwomen across the state through publications and conferences. Several Iowa clubs were in favor of suffrage and the proceedings of the IFWC reflect that. This collection also has information on the 1919 bill that granted presidential suffrage to Iowa women. The club’s records in IWA also document the literary and civic pursuits of clubs across the state.

Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission records. 1906-1941. 5 linear inches.

Since the Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission (ISMC) was an organization dedicated solely to recognizing the contributions Iowa women made to the suffrage campaign, this collection has been digitized in its entirety.

The bulk of the collection consists of pamphlets and correspondence. The pamphlets are mainly pro-suffrage propaganda printed by the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) and the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Most of the correspondence consists of letters between Carrie Chapman Catt, president of NAWSA and honorary president of the commission, and Mary Ankeny Hunter, president of the commission. Additional resources of the ISMC can be found in the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Collection at the State Historical Society in Des Moines.

League of Women Voters of Iowa. 1920-1998. 77.5 linear feet.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) of Iowa was founded in 1920 as the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association (IESA) disbanded. Women organized to educate other women about their new political responsibilities. The LWV histories include recollections from journalist Dorothy Ashby Pownall and activist Pauline Devitt. Reports of state organizers reveal how difficult it was to travel and host events in the 1920s. A League scrapbook contains photographs of many prominent IESA figures and essays about the history of women’s organizations in Iowa.

The LWV record books are extensive; only the early years of the first book have been digitized. IWA and other state archival institutions have extensive records from local LWV chapters. See the Resource Guide for further research suggestions.

League of Women Voters of Johnson County. 1920-2004. 14 linear feet.

The League of Women Voters of Johnson County was organized in 1920. Its 1922 Bulletin includes a good description of the League’s early aims. Since few bulletins from the early years of the League have survived, this is a rare glimpse into activities of the early 1920s.

The Financial Accounts ledger from 1920-1946 includes notations interspersed between blank pages. The dozens of pages not digitized were completely blank. Researchers can see an example of those blank pages on Page 18 & 19 in the digital collection. Any page with writing was digitized.

Marion Federation of Women’s Clubs. 1899-1957. 5 linear inches.

The Marion Federation of Women’s Clubs was an umbrella organization that met monthly at the Marion Public Library, allowing individual women’s clubs to work together on community service projects. Suffrage was mentioned several times in the minutes from 1913-1917 and club members debated and eventually voted to found a Cedar County Suffrage League. Unfortunately, the records of this county league appear to have been lost.

Ellen Mowrer Miller papers. 1856-1994. 10 linear inches.

Miller’s papers are an excellent example of how topical information can be “hidden” in archival collections. Ellen Mowrer Miller grew up in Boone County, Iowa after her family moved from Pennsylvania, and was not actively involved in the suffrage movement. However, she lived and wrote during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when suffrage was a prominent topic in the news and she included at least one mention of suffrage in her diary. A letter from her brother Milton Mowrer, a medical student in Philadelphia from 1866 to 1868, mentions a lecture by Henry Ward Beecher on Universal Suffrage. Milton Mowrer took his date to see Beecher speak for 75 cents. These brief references show that suffrage was being discussed by ordinary people across the country and not just by those actively involved in the movement.

Louise Rosenfield Noun papers. 1926-2002. 13 linear feet.

Louise Rosenfield Noun was an Iowa historian, women’s rights activist and art collector. Her book Strong-Minded Women: The Emergence of the Woman-Suffrage Movement in Iowa (ISU Press, 1969) is considered the seminal work on women’s suffrage in Iowa. All subsequent research on suffrage in Iowa relied heavily on Noun. This work, and her book Leader and Pariah: Annie Savery and the Campaign for Women’s Rights in Iowa (IWA, 2002) and her memoir, Journey to Autonomy (ISU Press, 1990), are included in their entireties in the digital collection. In her memoir, Noun describes her mother’s suffrage work, her own changing ideas about feminism, and surprises she encountered when researching the suffrage movement in Iowa. She also wrote numerous articles on suffrage and on figures such as Carrie Chapman Catt and Flora Dunlap. The drafts of these articles are available to researchers at the Iowa Women’s Archives. (The research files for Strong-Minded Women are held by the Grinnell College Archives in Grinnell, Iowa.)

The Louise Noun papers also include photographs of Noun and her mother as well as a selection of suffrage research materials. Additional photos of Noun and a scrapbook can be found in the Iowa Women’s Archives Founders Collection in the Iowa Digital Library.

Elvira Gaston Platt papers. 1853-1974. 1 linear inch.

Elvira Gaston Platt, teacher and abolitionist, was born in New York in 1818 and moved west after her marriage in 1841. In 1847 she and her husband moved to Fremont County, Iowa, turned to farming, and began assisting fugitive slaves on the underground railroad. During these years, Platt corresponded with her husband’s sisters, including Mrs. Mary A. Platt Darwin. Darwin was one of Iowa’s leading female lecturers in the 1860s and was present at the first women’s suffrage convention in Mt. Pleasant. A handful of the letters address suffrage and mention Theodore Tilton’s publication The Independent. Other topics included in the Platt-Darwin letters include frontier life, travel difficulties, health concerns and family news.

Dorothy Ashby Pownall papers. 1918-1974. 2.5 linear inches.

Journalist Dorothy Ashby was hired as a feature writer for the Des Moines Capital in 1917 and worked there until 1920. She was the only “girl reporter” to cover Camp Dodge in Des Moines during World War I, but she also wrote feature articles on prominent Iowa women, including a handful on suffrage and women’s political activities. In 1955, Pownall gave a speech to the League of Women Voters remembering her coverage of the last convention of the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association and how “dull” the suffragists could be.

Professional Women’s League, Des Moines, records. 1903-1998. 2.2 linear feet.

Rev. Mary A. Safford, who was active in the women’s suffrage movement, was elected the first president of the Professional Women’s League (PWL) in 1900.The purpose of the League was “to contribute to the social and intellectual life of its members, and to promote a spirit of fellowship among women in the professions.” As such, the collection includes programs and minutes referring to suffrage activities, including a 1913 speech arguing that women could not fully participate in professional activities without suffrage. There are also photos, including one of Safford.

Proteus Club, Des Moines, records. 1897-1996. 2.5 linear feet.

The Proteus Club of Des Moines was organized in 1896 by seven women college graduates for their intellectual improvement. Members took turns preparing papers to read at club meetings. In 1913, the club presented a skit that parodied the British suffragettes, entitled “The Militant Husbandette.” The script and photos reveal attitudes toward “radical” suffragettes during this time period.

Robinson-Lacy Family papers. 1852-2001.10 linear inches.

Laura Goddard Spaulding Robinson was present at an 1859 meeting of what would eventually be known as the Dubuque Ladies Literary Association (DLLA). Ten years later, the DLLA formed the Northeastern Iowa Suffrage Association-the first suffrage association in Iowa. Photos, newspaper clippings, and portions of a DLLA scrapbook are included in the Women’s Suffrage in Iowa Digital Collection. The Robinson-Lacy Family papers include family histories and an extensive collection of Robinson’s diaries. There are no specific mentions of suffrage activities in the diaries.

Genevieve Buess Taylor papers. 1916-1997. 1 linear inch.

Genevieve Buess Taylor’s mother, Dorothy Mills (Buess) was born in 1897. Just before the polls opened for the 1916 Iowa suffrage referendum, Mills wrote a brief arguing for equal suffrage in the United States. According to writing on the back of the brief, it was an assignment for an English class, probably when she was in high school. In 1919, she graduated from the Iowa State Teachers College in Cedar Falls, Iowa, acquiring a one-year college diploma.

Welch and Angrick collection. 1880-1995. 3.75 linear feet.

This collection consists of materials purchased by Maryjo Welch and William Angrick at estate auctions and donated to the Iowa Women's Archives.

“Give Us the Ballot,” sheet music written by Lilla C. Bliven for the Emmetsburg, Iowa Political Equality Club (1897) is one such donation. Bliven is listed in the 1895 census of Emmetsburg as a 37-year-old “keeping house” with two children and married to a real estate agent.

Her son, Bruce Bliven wrote about his boyhood and family history in Emmetsburg, Iowa in the August 1968 issue of The Palimpsest (published by the State Historical Society of Iowa). His reminiscences include remarks about his mother as a poet and songwriter, although he does not mention “Give Us the Ballot” specifically. Bruce Bliven's papers at Stanford University Special Collections Department contain a small amount of family correspondence.

The Welch-Angrick physical collection also contains a scattering of national suffrage materials.

Woman’s Christian Temperance Union records. 1874-2006. 18.75 linear feet.

The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) of Iowa was supportive of the suffrage movement from its fourth annual convention in Ottumwa in 1877. Publications of the WCTU, such as The Iowa Signal, often referred to a woman’s duty to clean up her town and protect it from the evils of intemperance.

Several local temperance unions including Grinnell, Story County, Boone County, and the Denison Total Abstinence Union (not affiliated with WCTU) were also active on the suffrage front as evidenced in their minutes.

Bound proceedings of Iowa conventions from 1874 to 1920 reveal the changing strategies used by suffragists and temperance workers. These books include detailed descriptions of activities, including financial information, and exhortations to support suffrage. These passages provide a rare glimpse behind the scenes of a powerful women’s organization. Personal opinions of individual women are printed in the club proceedings, which is unusual for records of that time. Since these proceedings are so extensive, only the sections pertinent to suffrage in Iowa have been digitized. Among other topics covered in convention proceedings (available in physical form at the Iowa Women’s Archives) are temperance, foreign workers, child welfare, and white slave trafficking.

Printed Works Collection (IWA).

In addition to manuscript and photograph collections, the Iowa Women’s Archives also has a printed works collection consisting mainly of books by and about Iowa women. A handful of these are important documents of the women’s suffrage movement in Iowa and have been digitized for the collection.


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Iowa Authors Collection

In a 1939 speech given on her 80th birthday in New York, Carrie Chapman Catt remembered the struggles of suffrage in Iowa and across the country.


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Carrie Chapman Catt papers. 1878-ongoing. 1.68 linear feet.

Several buttons and pins from state, national and international suffrage organizations have been digitized. These buttons were photographed for the digital collection from the Carrie Chapman Catt papers in the Iowa State University Special Collections.


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Joseph A. Dugdale correspondence. 1 folder. (D879).

Dating from 1866-1873, the bulk of this correspondence is from 1870, the year Dugdale spearheaded the first suffrage convention in Mount Pleasant. Many prominent Iowans were involved with the conference planning correspondence, including suffragist Amelia Bloomer. The tone of Bloomer’s letter suggests that she was a bit put out by the conference. She and fellow suffragist Annie Savery had hoped to hold the first suffrage conference in Des Moines, but that effort never got off the ground.

Iowa Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. 1903-1972. 1 linear foot. (Ms193).

The records in this collection include the organization’s constitution and by-laws; minutes, proceedings, programs and souvenirs of the annual meetings; and two scrapbooks, photographs and some records of the Central Association of Colored Women which represents clubs in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Kentucky. The records include materials from annual conventions in the following cities and towns: Davenport, Muscatine, Buxton, Ottumwa, Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Marshalltown, Burlington, Iowa City, Mason City, Council Bluffs, Waterloo, and Sioux Falls, S.D.

The minutes and programs from annual conventions reveal that there were several African American women’s clubs dedicated to suffrage (solely or in part). Few of the records go into detail on suffrage work, but it is clear that Iowa African Americans were involved in the fight. The minutes from 1911 to 1917 are also a treasure trove of information on education activism in the early twentieth century. Minutes of this organization can also be found in the African American Women in Iowa Digital Collection.

Iowa Women’s Suffrage Collection. 1868-1951. 9.5 cubic feet. (MS71).

This collection includes records from several organizations such as the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Society, the Iowa Equal Suffrage Association, the Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission, the Iowa League of Women Voters, and the Des Moines Political Equality Club. In addition, there are publications including a rare collection of Susan B. Anthony’s The Revolution (1868-1870), The Woman’s Column (1892), The Woman Citizen (1917-1918), and The Woman’s Standard (1886-1888). Several scrapbooks compiled by suffragists, newspaper clippings, correspondence, biographies, and materials belonging to Carrie Chapman Catt are also in the collection. Many photographs of suffragists have been removed from this collection and placed in the State Historical Society of Iowa’s photograph collection in Des Moines.

Material relating to the Iowa Suffrage Memorial Commission, the Iowa League of Women Voters, the Des Moines Political Equality Club, and Carrie Chapmann Catt is included in the Women’s Suffrage in Iowa Digital Collection.

The Woman’s Standard. 1886-1911. Microfilm (originals in Des Moines).

The Woman’s Standard was the women’s suffrage publication in Iowa. Mary Jane Coggeshall and Martha C. Callanan compiled the first issue. The Woman’s Standard was published in various Iowa cities throughout its life, but the business offices remained in Des Moines. The 1908 issues have been digitized as a sample of the kinds of news stories suffragists reported on.

Original issues are in the Iowa Women’s Suffrage Collection in Des Moines. Both State Historical Societies have the publication available on microfilm.


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Charles City Political Equality Club. 1891-1938. 2 volumes ; 21-22 cm. + 1 b & w photograph.

The Charles City Political Equality Club was established in November 1891 by Carrie Lane Chapman with fourteen charter members. The club’s constitution states that its purpose was to promote interest in “principles of impartial suffrage and ... secure such state and national legislation as shall be necessary to establish the same.” Members of the Political Equality Club were invited to read a suffrage paper to the WCTU. Other topics of discussion included women as poets and women as inventors. This collection includes two secretary’s books containing the constitution, membership lists, and minutes of the Charles City Political Equality Club, with entries dated from the club’s first meeting on November 7, 1891 through March 10, 1897. There is also a black and white photograph taken in 1938 of Anna Mahara (the club’s first secretary) standing with Ivadelle Lane (Carrie Chapman Catt’s grandniece) in front of a marker at the girlhood home of Carrie Chapman Catt.

Gilbert Haugen. 1882-1940. 80 linear feet.

Gilbert Nelson Haugen (1859 - 1933) was a seventeen-term Republican U.S. Representative from Iowa’s 4th congressional district--then located in northeastern Iowa--as well as a banker, farmer, real estate agent, and horse breeder. Born before the American Civil War, and first elected to Congress in the 19th century, Haugen served until his defeat in the 1932 Franklin D. Roosevelt landslide.

This manuscript collection includes correspondence between Haugen and various Charles City area businessmen and their wives about the 1894 proposal to allow Iowa women to vote on bond issues. Partial suffrage was granted in 1894. Letters both for and against the measure are in the collection and a representative sample has been digitized.

The collection also contains legislative, personal, and business papers, and speeches.

Iowa Suffrage Association

This collection includes various documents concerning women’s suffrage in Iowa, ranging from letters opposing suffrage to an Iowa Equal Suffrage Association registration card for war service and IESA stamps and fliers.

Lawther Collection. 1874- 1927. 3 linear feet.

This collection is made of papers of suffrage activist Anna Bell Lawther and her father, William Lawther. Anna was born in Dubuque in 1872. She attended public school in Dubuque and received her bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College. She embraced the issue of women’s suffrage, serving twice as the president of the Iowa State Equal Suffrage Association. She kept extensive clippings and correspondence on suffrage and anti-suffrage activities in Iowa, including correspondence with secretary of state William S. Allen regarding a mistake in filing which prevented a referendum from being sent to the Iowa people. Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association while Lawther served on IESA, was also a frequent correspondent. The collection also includes material on temperance and women’s work in World War I.

Anna Lawther became a leading figure in local, state, and national Democratic Party politics, serving for six years on the Democratic National Central Committee.

Jesse Macy. 1862-1941. 6 ft. (15 boxes).

Jesse Macy moved to Powesheik County, Iowa from Indiana in 1856. In 1859 he entered the academy of Iowa College at Grinnell, graduating from Iowa College (later known as Grinnell) in 1870. From 1885 until his retirement in 1912 he taught political science and history at Grinnell. He was an advocate of women’s suffrage, the rights of blacks, Darwin’s theory of evolution, and peace. This collection includes correspondence, writings, diaries, photographs, and other material.

One three-page essay in favor of woman’s suffrage has been included in the digital collection.

Carrie Dean Pruyn

Carrie Dean graduated from Tipton High School in 1895 and moved to Ida Grove after her marriage. In her reminiscences she describes a suffrage auto tour and talks about suffrage work in rural Iowa. There are also several period photographs.

Suffrage Leaflets and Broadsides

This loose folder is not part of its own collection, but items of interest for suffrage researchers include leaflets and fliers expressing opposition to poll taxes, and on the topics “Logic for the Business Man,” “True Democracy,” and “Women Do Want the Vote.”

SUI Suffrage Club. 1916-1917. 1 volume.

The State University of Iowa (S.U.I.) Equal Suffrage Association was established in 1916 on the campus of the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) to promote the cause of equal suffrage in the months prior to the June 1916 suffrage referendum. After the amendment was defeated, the organization resolved to “continue its existence until equal suffrage is granted to all citizens of the state of Iowa.” Included are minutes of four meetings with a list of the names of 224 members. A number of significant University figures belonged to this club, including Ruth Gallaher and Bertha Shambaugh.

The Woman’s Standard. 1886-1911. Microfilm (originals in Des Moines).

Iowa’s women’s suffrage publication. The 1908 issues have been digitized in order to give examples of the types of articles published in this newspaper, which ran from 1886 to 1911.

The Woman’s Journal. May 1916

This May 1916 issue of the national publication, The Woman’s Journal, focused on the Iowa suffrage referendum. The writers seemed to think victory in Iowa was inevitable due to the support of so many prominent men and women.

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