A New Conscience and an Ancient Evil, Chapter IV: Tragedies of Lonely and Unprotected Girls, February 1912

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THERE is no doubt that philanthropy often reflects and dramatizes the modern sensitiveness of the community in relation to a social wrong because those engaged in the rescue of its victims are able to apprehend, though their daily experiences, many aspects of a recognized evil concerning which the public are ignorant and therefore indifferent. However ancient a wrong may be, in each generation it must become newly embodied in living people, and the social custom into which it has hardened through the years must be continued in individual lives. Unless the contemporaries of such unhappy individuals are touched to tenderness or stirred to indignation by the actual embodiments of the old wrong in their own generation, effective action can not be secured.

The social evil has, on the whole, received less philanthropic effort than any other well-recognized menace to the community, largely because there is something peculiarly distasteful and distressing in person acquaintance with its victims, a distaste and distress that sometimes lead to actual nervous collapse. A distinguished Englishman has recently written that "sober-minded people who, from motives of pity, have looked the hideous evil full in the face, have often asserted that nothing in their experience has seemed to threaten them so nearly with a loss of reason."

Nevertheless, this comparative lack of philanthropic effort is the more remarkable because the average age of the victims of the social evil is between sixteen and eighteen years, the age at which girls are still minors under the law in respect to all matters of property. We allow a minor to determine for herself whether or not she will live this most abominable life, although if she resolves to be a thief she will, if possible be apprehended and imprisoned; if she becomes a drunkard she will be restrained; even if she chooses to be a professional beggar, she will be interfered with; but the decision to lead this evil life, disastrous alike to herself and the community, although well known to the police, is openly permitted. If a man has seized upon a moment of weakness in a girl and obtained her "consent," although she may thereafter be in dire need of help, she is put outside all protection of the law. The courts assume that such a girl has deliberately decided for herself, and that because she is not of "previous chaste life and character" she is lost to all decency. Yet every human being knows deep down in his heart that his own moral energy ebbs and flows, that he could not be judged fairly by his moments of weakness and defeat, and that after such revealing moments, although shocked and frightened, he is the same human being, struggling as he did before. Nevertheless in some states a little girl as young as ten years of age may make this irrevocable decision for herself on the ground that chastity is altogether an individual affair. Several instances illustrate better than could be done in any other way the youth and helplessness of young girls who, if they had not been rescued by protective agencies, would have become permanent outcasts, although they would have entered a disreputable life through no fault of their own.

The County Girl a More Valuable Asset than the City Girl

The illustrations in this article are all taken from the Juvenile Protective Association of Chicago in connection with its efforts to protect girls from overwhelming temptation. Doubtless many other associations could offer equally convincing testimony, for in recent years the [page 2] number of people to whom the very existence of the white slave traffic has become unendurable, and who are determinedly working against it, has enormously increased.

A surprising number of country girls have been either brought to Chicago under false pretenses, or have been decoyed into an evil life very soon after their arrival in the city. Country girls are in constant danger because they are much more easily secreted than girls procured from the city. A country girl entering a vicious life quickly feels the disgrace and soon becomes too broken-spirited and discouraged to make any effort to escape into the unknown city which she believes to be full of horrors similar to those she has already encountered. She desires above all things to deceive her family at home, often sending money to them regularly and writing letters describing a fictitious life of hard work. She even occasionally visits her country home without being discovered.

More than Half the Unfortunate Girls in Chicago Come from Farms and Small Towns

Mr. Clifford Roe estimates that more than half of the girls who have been recruited into a disreputable life in Chicago have come from the farms and smaller towns of Illinois and neighboring states. The report of the Chicago Vice Commission tells of many girls, living in small cities and country towns, who come to Chicago from time to time under arrangements made with the landlady of a seemingly respectable flat or apartment. They remain long enough to earn money for a spring or fall wardrobe and return to their home towns, where their acquaintances are quite without suspicion of the methods they have employed to secure the much admired costumes brought from the city.

Often an unattached country girl who has come to live in a city has gradually fallen into a vicious life from sheer lack of social restraint. Such a girl, when living in a small community, realized that good behavior was a protective measure and that any suspicion of immorality would quickly ruin her social standing; but, when removed from such surveillance, she hoped to be able to pass from her regular life to an irregular one and back again before the fact had been noted, quite as many young men hope to do.

The Story of a Pretty Chambermaid and Her Reckless Adventure

The experience of a pretty girl who came to the office of the Juvenile Protective Association a year ago is fairly typical of the argument that many of these country girls offer in their own defense. This girl had been a hotel chambermaid in an Iowa town where many of the traveling patrons of the hotel had made love to her, one of them occasionally offering her protection if she would leave with him. At first she indignantly refused, but was at length convinced that the acceptance of such offers must be a very general practice and that, whatever might be the custom in the country, in a city no one made personal inquiries. She finally consented to accompany a young man to Seattle, both because she wanted to travel and she was discouraged in her attempts to "be good." A few weeks later, when in Chicago, she left the young man, acting from what she considered a point of honor, as his invitation had been limited to the journey which was now completed. Feeling too disgraced to go home, and under the glamour of the life of idleness she had been leading, she had gone voluntarily into a disreputable house, in which the police had found her and sent her to the office of the Association. She could not be persuaded to give up her plan, but finally consented to wait for a few days to "think it over," and, as she was leaving the office in company with a representative of the Association, they met the young man, who had been distractedly searching for her and had just discovered her whereabouts. They were married the very same day, and of course we never saw them again.

The Terrifying Experience of Two Farmers' Daughters in a Great City

It is, however, much cheaper and safer to procure country girls after they have reached the city. Perhaps the most flagrant case that the Association ever dealt with was that of two young girls who had come to Chicago from a small village in West Virginia, hoping to earn large wages in order to help their families. They arrived in the city penniless, having been robbed en route of their one slender purse. As they stood in the railway station, utterly bewildered, they were accosted by a man who presented the advertising card of a "good boarding-house" and offered to take them there. They quite innocently accepted his invitation; but an hour later, finding themselves in a locked room, they became frightened and realized that they had been duped. Fortunately the two agile country girls had no difficulty in escaping from a second-story window, but upon the street they were, of course, much too frightened to speak to any one again and wandered about for hours. The house from which they had escaped bore the [page 3] sign "Rooms to Rent," and they therefore carefully avoided all houses whose placards offered shelter. Finally, when they were desperate with hunger, they went into a saloon for a "free lunch," not in the least realizing that they were expected to take a drink in order to receive it. A policeman, seeing two young girls in a saloon "without escort," arrested them and took them to the nearest station, where they spent the night in a wretched cell.

At the hearing the next morning, where, much frightened, they gave a very incoherent account of their adventures, the judge fined them each fifteen dollars and costs, and as they were unable to pay the fine, they were ordered sent to the city prison. When they were escorted from the court-room, another man approached them and offered to pay their fines if they would go with him. Frightened by their former experience, they stoutly declined his help, but were over-persuaded by his graphic portrayal of prison horrors and "the disgrace that their imprisonment would bring upon the folks at home." He also made clear that, when they came out of prison thirty days later, they would be no better off than they were now, save that they would have the added stigma of being jail-birds. The girls at last reluctantly consented to go with him, when a representative of the Juvenile Protective Association, who had followed them from the court-room and had listened to the conversation, insisted upon the prompt arrest of the man, who was a well-known "cadet." When the entire story finally secured from the girls was related to the judge, he reversed his decision, fined the man one hundred dollars, which he was abundantly able to pay, and insisted that the girls be sent back to their mothers in Virginia. They were farmers' daughters, strong and capable of taking care of themselves in an environment that they understood, but in constant danger because of their ignorance of city life.

The Young Girl's Natural Love of Pleasure Utilized for Her Downfall

The methods employed to procure city girls must be much more subtle and complicated than those employed with the less sophisticated country girls. Although the city girl, once procured, is later allowed more freedom than is accorded to either a country girl or an immigrant girl, every effort is made to demoralize her completely before she enters the life. Because she may at any moment escape into the city which she knows so well, it is necessary to secure her inner consent. Those whose profession it is to furnish girls for the white slave trade apparently find it possible to decoy and demoralize most easily that city girl whose need for recreation has led her to the disreputable public dance-hall or other questionable places of amusement.

Gradually those philanthropic agencies that are endeavoring to be of service to the girls learn to know the dangers in these places. Many parents are utterly indifferent to or ignorant of the pleasures that their children find for themselves. From the time these children were five years old, such parents were accustomed to see them take care of themselves on the street and at school, and it seems but natural that when the children are old enough to earn money they should be able to find their own amusements.

The Low Dance-Hall with Its Long Intermissions and Cheap Liquor

The girls are attracted to the unregulated dance-halls not only by a love of pleasure but by a sense of adventure, and it is in these places that they are most easily recruited for a vicious life. Unfortunately, there are in Chicago one hundred and ninety dance-halls connected directly with saloons, while liquor is openly sold in most of the others. This consumption of liquor enormously increases the danger to young people. A girl after a long day's work is easily induced to believe that a drink will dispel her lassitude. There is plenty of time between the dances to persuade her, as the intermissions are long, fifteen to twenty minutes, and the dances short, occupying but four or five minutes; moreover, the halls are hot and dusty and it is almost impossible to obtain a drink of water. Often the entire purpose of the dance-hall, with its carefully arranged intermissions, is the selling of liquor to the people it has brought together.

After the girl has begun to drink, the way of the "cadet," who is often in league with the "spieler" who frequents the dance-hall, is comparatively easy. He assumes one of two roles -- that of the sympathetic older man or that of the eager young lover. In the character of the former, he tells the "down-trodden working-girl" that her wages are a mere pittance and that he can secure a better place for her with higher wages if she will trust him. He often makes allusions to the shabbiness or cheapness of her clothing and considers it "a shame that such a pretty girl can not dress better." In the second role, he apparently falls in love with her, tells of his rich parents, complaining that they want him to marry a "society swell," but that he really prefers a working-girl like herself. In [page 4] either case he established friendly relations, exalted in the girl's mind, through the excitement of the liquor and the dance, into a new sense of intimate understanding and protection.

Girls Often Unable to Recover Themselves After the First Misstep

Later in the evening she leaves the hall with him for a restaurant, because, as he truthfully says, she is exhausted and in need of food. At the supper, however, she drinks much more, and it is not surprising that she is at last persuaded that it is too late to go home and in the end consents to spend the rest of the night in a near-by lodging-house. Six young girls, each accompanied by a "spieler" from a dance-hall, were recently followed to a chop-suey restaurant and then to a lodging-house, which the police were instigated to raid, and where the six girls, more or less intoxicated, were found.

If no one rescues the girl after such an experience she sometimes does not return home at all, or, if she does, feels herself initiated into a new world where it is possible to obtain money at will and to secure the pleasures that it brings. She comes at length to consider herself superior to her less sophisticated companions, but as this latter state of mind is untenable for any length of time the girl is soon found openly leading a disreputable life.

Exploiting the Children of the Very Poor

The unregulated amusement-parks are apparently most dangerous to little girls twelve or fourteen years old who are childishly eager for amusement and totally unable to pay for a ride on the scenic railway or for a ticket to an entertainment. They easily accept many favors from the young men who are standing near the entrances for the express purpose of finding disappointed children. The reward which is demanded from the girls later in the evening, after they have enjoyed the many "treats" which the amusement-park offers, apparently seems of little moment. Their childish minds are filled with the memory of the lurid pleasures to the oblivion of the later experience, and they eagerly tell their companions of this possibility of "getting in to all the shows." These poor little girls pass unnoticed amid a crowd of honest people seeking recreation after a long day's work, groups of older girls walking and talking gaily with young men of their acquaintance, and happy children holding their parents' hands. This cruel exploitation of the childish eagerness for pleasure is, of course, possible only among a certain type of forlorn city children who are totally without moral standards and into whose colorless lives a visit to the amusement-park brings the acme of delirious excitement.

Their home environment has been similar to that of many children who come to grief through the five-cent theater. These eager little people, to whom life has offered few pleasures, crowd around the door hoping to be taken in by some kind soul, and when they have been disappointed over and over again and the "last performance" is about to begin, a little girl may be induced unthinkingly to barter her chastity for an entrance fee. Many children are also found who have been decoyed into their first wrong-doing through the temptation of the saloon, in spite of the fact that one of the earliest regulations in American cities for the protection of children has been the prohibition of the sale of liquor to minors.

The Disreputable Theatrical Agency and Its Deceptive Advertisements

The older girls attending the cheap theaters and the vaudeville shows are most commonly approached through their vanity. They readily listen to the triumphs of a stage career sure to be attained by such a "good-looker," and a large number of them follow a young man to the women with whom he is in partnership under the promise of being introduced to a theatrical manager. There are also theatrical agencies in league with disreputable places, who advertise for pretty girls, promising large salaries. Such an agency, operating with a well-known "near theater" in the state capitol, was recently prosecuted in Chicago and its license revoked.

The methods pursued on excursion-boats are similar to those of the dance-hall, in that decent girls are induced to drunk quantities of liquor to which they are unaccustomed. On the high seas liquor is usually sold in original packages, which enormously increases the amount consumed. It is not unusual to see a boy and a girl drink, between them, an entire bottle of whisky.

Some of these excursion-boats carry five thousand people, and in the easy breakdown of propriety which holiday-making often implies and in the absence of police, to which city young people are unaccustomed, the utmost freedom and license are often indulged in.

Thus the lake excursions, one of the most delightful possibilities for recreation in Chicago, through lack of proper policing and through the sale of liquor, are made a menace to thousands of young people to whom they should be a great resource. [page 5]

Cities Must Provide Their Young People with Amusement

When a philanthropic association, with a knowledge of the commercial exploitation of youth's natural response to gay surroundings, attempts to substitute innocent recreation, it finds the undertaking most difficult. Chicago, after a thorough investigation of public dance-halls, amusement-parks, five-cent theaters, and excursion-boats, is insisting upon more vigorous enforcement of the existing legislation, and is also urging further legal regulation; Kansas City has instituted a Department of Public Welfare with power to regulate places of amusement; a New York committee has established model dance-halls; and several cities, among them Cleveland and Milwaukee, are urging the appointment of commissions on public recreation, while New York and Columbus have already created them.

Perhaps nothing in actual operation is more valuable than the small parks of Chicago in which the large halls are used every evening for dancing, and where outdoor sports, swimming-pools, and gymnasiums daily attract thousands of young people for recreation and pleasure. But, until municipal provisions adequately meet this need, philanthropic and social organizations must be committed to the establishment of more adequate recreational facilities.

More Danger for Young Girls in Domestic Service than in Any Other Occupation

Although many dangers are encountered by the pleasure-loving girl who demands that each evening shall bring her some measure of recreation, a large number of girls meet with difficulties and temptations while soberly at work, and of these by far the largest number are girls who are in domestic service.

In spite of the fact that domestic service is always suggested by the average woman as an alternative for the working-girl whose life is beset with danger, the federal report on "Women and Child Wage-Earners in the United States" gives the occupation of the majority of girls who go wrong as that of domestic service, and in this it confirms the experience of every matron in a rescue home. The report suggests that the danger comes from the general conditions of work. "These general conditions are the loneliness of the life, the lack of opportunities for making friends and securing recreation and amusement in safe surroundings, the monotonous and uninteresting nature of the work done as these untrained girls do it, the lack of external stimulus to pride and self-respect, and the absolutely unguarded state of the girl except when directly under the eye of her mistress."

The Loneliness and Isolation of the Girl in Domestic Service

In addition to these reasons, the girls realize that the opportunities for marriage are fewer in domestic service than in other occupations, and, after all, the great business of youth is securing a mate, as the young instinctively understand. Unlike the working-girl who lives at home and constantly meets young men of her own neighborhood and factory life, the girl in domestic service is brought into contact with very few possible lovers. Even the men of her former acquaintance, however slightly Americanized, do not like to call on a girl in some one else's kitchen and find the entire situation embarrassing. The girl's mistress knows that for her own daughters mutual interests and recreation are the natural foundation for friendships with young men -- friendships which may or may not lead to marriage but which are prerogative of every young girl. The mistress does not, however, apply this worldly wisdom to the "maid" in her service, although the girl may be only eighteen or nineteen years old, utterly dependent upon her for social life, save during her afternoons and evenings "out."

The majority of domestics are employed in families where there is only one, and the tired and dispirited girl, often without a taste for reading, spends many lonely hours. That most fundamental and powerful of all instincts has, therefore, no chance for diffusion or social expression, and, like all confined forces, tends to degenerate. The girl is equipped with no weapon with which to contend with those poisonous images that arise from the senses, and a girl in the bondage of these images, bred of fatigue and loneliness, becomes an easy victim.

The Friendless Position of the Colored Servant

This is especially true of the colored girl, who, because of her traditions, is often treated with so little respect by white men that she is constantly subjected to insult. Even the colored servants in the New York apartment-houses, who live at home and thus escape this loneliness, are obliged to seek their pleasures late into the night, because their working hours extend until [page 6] nine in the evening. American cities offer occupation to more colored women than colored men, and this surplus of women, in some cities as large as one hundred and thirty or forty women to one hundred men, affords an opportunity to the procurer which he quickly seizes. He is often in league with certain employment bureaus who make a business of advancing the railroad or boat fare to colored girls coming from the South to enter into domestic service. The girl, in debt and unused to the city, is often put into a questionable house and kept there until her debt is paid many times over. In some respects her position is not unlike that of the imported white slave, for, although she has the inestimable advantage of speaking the language, she finds it even more difficult to have her story credited. This contemptuous attitude is a disadvantage to her in many ways, for so universally are colored girls in domestic service suspected of blackmail that the average court is slow to credit their testimony when it is given against white men.

The Tragic Story of a Young Norwegian Girl

When a girl who has been in domestic service loses her health, or for any other reason is unable to carry on her occupation, she is often curiously detached and isolated, because she has had so little opportunity for normal societal relation relationships and friendships. One of the saddest cases ever brought to my personal knowledge was that of an orphan Norwegian girl who, coming to America at the age of seventeen, had been for the three years in one position as general housemaid, during which time she has drawn only such part of her wages as was necessary for her simply clothing. At the end of three years, when she was sent to a public hospital with nervous prostration, her employer refused to pay her accumulated wages on the ground that owing to her ill health she had been of little use during the last year. When she left the hospital, practically penniless, advised by the physician to find some outdoor work, she sold a patented egg-beater for six months, earning scarcely enough for the barest necessities and in constant dread lest she could not "keep respectable." When she was found wandering upon the street, she not only had no capital with which to renew her stock, but had been without food for two days and had resolved to drown herself. Every effort was made to restore the half-crazed girl, but unfortunately hospital restraint was not considered necessary, and a month later, in spite of the vigilance of her new friends, her body was taken from the lake.

No Mercy Shown to the Servant in Disgrace

A surprising number of suicides occur among girls who have been in domestic service when they discover that they have been betrayed by their lovers. Perhaps nothing is more astonishing than the attitude of the mistress when the situation of such a forlorn girl is discovered, and it would be interesting to know how far this attitude has influenced these girls either to suicide or to the equally reckless choice of a disreputable life, which statistics show so many of their number have elected. The mistress almost always promptly dismisses such a girl, assuring her that she is disgraced forever and too polluted to remain for another hour in a good home. In full command of the situation, she usually succeeds in convincing the wretched girl that she is irreparably "ruined." Her very phraseology, unknown to herself, is a remnant of that earlier historic period when every woman was obliged in her own person to protect her home and to secure the status of her children. The indignant woman is trying to exercise alone that social restraint which should have been exercised by the community and which would have naturally protected the girl if she had not been so completely withdrawn from the community in order to serve exclusively the interests of her mistress' family.

The Dreary Outlook of the Girl Mother

Such a woman seldom follows the "ruined" girl through the dreary weeks after her dismissal -- her difficulty in finding any sort of work, the ostracism of her former friends added to her own self-accusation, the poverty and the loneliness, the final ten days in the hospital, and the great temptation which comes after that to give away her child. The baby-farmer who haunts the public hospitals for such cases tells her that upon the payment of forty or fifty dollars he will take care of the child for a year, and that "maybe it won't live any longer than that." Unless the hospital is equipped with a social service department such as the one at the Massachusetts General, the girl leaves it weak and low-spirited and too broken to care what becomes of her. It is in moments such as these that many a poor girl, convinced that all the world is against her, decides to enter a disreputable house. Here, at least, she will find food and shelter, she will not be despised by the other inmates, and she can earn money for the support of her child. Often she has received the address of such a house from one of her companions in the maternity ward, where, among the fifty per [page 7] cent of the unmarried mothers, at least two or three sophisticated girls are always to be found, eager to "put wise" the girls who are merely unfortunate. Occasionally a girl who follows such unfortunate advice still insists upon keeping her child. I recall a pathetic case in the Juvenile Court of Chicago where such a mother of a five-year-old child was pronounced by the judge to be an "improper guardian." The agonized woman was told that she might retain the child if she would completely change her way of life; but she insisted that such a requirement was impossible, that she had no other means of earning her living, and that she had become too idle and broken for regular work. The child clung piteously to the mother, and, having gathered from the evidence that she was considered "not good," assured the judge over and over again that she was "the bestest mother in the world." The poor mother, who had begun her wretched mode of life for her child's sake, found herself so demoralized by her hideous experiences that she could not leave the life, even for the sake of the same child, still her most precious possession. Only six years before, this mother had been an honest girl cheerfully working in the household of a good woman whose sense of duty had expressed itself in dismissing the "outcast."

The Girl in Domestic Service the Last Representative of Old-Time Labor Conditions for Women

These discouraged girls, who so often come from domestic service to supply the vice demands of the city, are really the last representatives of those thousands of betrayed girls who for many years met the entire demand of the trade; for, while a procurer of some sort has performed his office for centuries, only in the last fifty years has the white slave market required the services of extended business enterprises in order to keep up the supply. Previously the demand had been largely met by the girls who had voluntarily entered a disreputable life because they had been "ruined." While the white slave traffic was organized primarily for profit, it could, of course, have never flourished unless there had been a dearth of these discouraged girls. Is it not also significant that the surviving representatives of the girls who formerly supplied the demand are drawn most largely from the one occupation which is furthest from the modern ideal of social freedom and self-direction?

Domestic service represents in the modern world, more nearly than any other of the gainful occupations open to women, the ancient labor conditions under which woman's standard of chastity was developed and for so long maintained. It would seem obvious that both the girl over-restrained at home as well as the girl in domestic service had been too much withdrawn from the healthy influence of public opinion, and it is at least significant that domestic control has so broken down that the girls most completely under its rule are shown to be those in the greatest danger. Such a statement undoubtedly needs the modification that the girls in domestic service are frequently those who are unadapted to skilled labor and are least capable of taking care of themselves; yet the fact remains that they are belated morally as well as industrially. As they have missed the industrial discipline that comes from regular hours and systemized work, so they have missed the moral training of group solidarity, the ideals and restraints which the friendships and companionships of other working-girls would have brought them.

The Self-Supporting Girl Finds Her Greatest Safeguard in Her
Fellow Workers

In the better paid and more skilled positions open to women the social restraint afforded by this companionship is most valuable, as are the new business women's codes which are developing among them, although at present it is often manifested by the social ostracism of the one of their number, who has broken the conventions. When the judgement of her peers becomes, not less firm but more kindly, the self-supporting girl will have a safeguard and restraint many times more effective than the individual control which has become so inadequate for the girl in domestic service, or the family discipline which, with the best intentions in the world, can not cope with existing social conditions.

The Redeeming Power of Maternal Affection

The most perplexing case that comes before the philanthropic organizations trying to aid and rescue the victims of the white slave traffic is the type which involves a girl who has been secured when so lonely, detached, and discouraged that she greedily seized whatever friendship was offered her. Such a girl has been so eager for affection that she clings to even the wretched simulacrum of it afforded by the man who calls himself her "protector," and she can only be permanently detached from the life to which he holds her when she is put under the influence of more genuine affections and interests. [page 8] That is doubtless one reason it is always more possible to help the girl who has become the mother of a child. Although she unjustly faces a public opinion much more severe than that encountered by the childless woman who also endeavors to "reform," the mother's sheer affection and maternal absorption enable her to overcome the greater difficulties more easily than the other woman who is without the new warmth of motive can overcome the lesser ones. The Salvation Army in their rescue homes have long recognized this need for an absorbing interest which should involve the Magdalen's deepest affections and emotions, and therefore often utilize the rescued girl to save others.

Certainly no philanthropic association, however rationalistic and suspicious of emotional appeal, can hope to help a girl once overwhelmed by desperate temptation, unless it is able to pull her back into the stream of kindly human fellowship and into a life involving normal human relations. Such an association must needs remember those wise words of Count Tolstoy's:

"We constantly think that there are circumstances in which a human being can be treated without affection, and there are no such circumstances."

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