Labour History Review

Martha Jane Bury (1851-1913): A Case-Study of Class Identity

Labour History Review (2002), 67, (2), 131–148.

Abstract

This article explores the interplay of class and gender in the life of one little known working-class activist, Martha Jane Bury. Bury began working in the cotton mills in the Blackburn-Darwen area as a half-timer at the age of eleven. By the time she married in 1882, her class identity had been so profoundly shaped by her experiences that her husband's promotions, which eventually raised their family to middle-class status, did not change it. Her continued identification with working-class women inspired her activities on their behalf within her Congregational chapel and in the Women's Co-operative Guild. She served three terms as the national president of the Guild and confronted its general secretary, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, over such issues as women's suffrage and divorce law reform. Bury thought that Llewelyn Davies' support for adult suffrage and divorce by mutual consent did not serve the best interests of the married working-class women in the Guild. Her work as a Guildswoman shows that Bury continued to identify as a working-class woman even when, arguably, her objective class position was no longer working class.

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Anne Phillips, Divided Loyalties: Dilemmas of Sex and Class, London, Virago, 1987, p. 72. Divided Loyalties: Dilemmas of Sex and Class 72 Google Scholar

Phillips, Divided Loyalties, p. 65. Google Scholar

Phillips, Divided Loyalties, p. 72. Google Scholar

Some examples of early feminist histories which recount Guild activities are Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden from History, London, Pluto, 1973; Jill Liddington and Jill Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us, London, Virago, 1978. Jean Gaffin published on the Guild itself. See her ‘Women and Co-operation’, in Lucy Middleton (ed.), Women in the Labour Movement: The British Experience, London, Croom Helm, 1977, and the book she wrote with David Thoms, Caring and Sharing: The Centenary History of the Women's Co-operative Guild, Manchester, Co-operative Union, 1983. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Compare the interpretation of her career found in Gillian Scott, Feminism and the Politics of Working Women: The Women's Co-operative Guild, 1880s to the Second World War, London, UCL Press, 1998 with that found in Barbara J. Blaszak, The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement: A Study in Gender Politics and Female Leadership, 1883-1921, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2000. Interestingly, even Gaffin and Thoms, whose book was published for the Guild's centenary, are more critical of Llewelyn Davies than Scott (see Caring and Sharing, pp. 29, 34, 91). Google Scholar

Margaret Llewelyn Davies, The Women's Co-operative Guild, 1883-1904, Kirkby Lonsdale, The Women's Cooperative Guild, 1904. Google Scholar

Bury tells the story of the Darwen branch formation and of her association with it in a report in the Darwen News, 11 October 1905. Google Scholar

These figures are taken from the reports of the secretary of the Darwen Guild, Elizabeth Law, as given annually in the Darwen News. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Gillian Scott uses Bury's words for the title of her article ‘"As a war-horse to the beat of the drums": Representations of Working-class Femininity in the Women's Co-operative Guild, 1880s to the Second World War’, in Eileen Janes Yeo (ed.), Radical Femininity: Women's Self-representation in the Public Sphere, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1998, and quotes her at the opening of it (p. 196) but does not include her Christian name. I cannot be absolved from guilt in this respect either as Bury figures prominently in my book, The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement, where I also refer to her as Mrs Bury. Google Scholar

Both Gaffin and Thoms, Caring and Sharing, and Scott, Feminism and the Politics of Working Women present the standard characterisation of the Guild as democratically run. Google Scholar

Blaszak, The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement, ch. 5, offers additional discussion of this issue. Google Scholar

Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It, New York, W. W. Norton, 1975, pp. 131-5. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 18 June 1904. Google Scholar

Additional information about the relationship between the half-time system and working-class education can be found in Edmund and Ruth Frow, A survey of the half-time system in education, Manchester, E. J. Morten, 1970. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 29 July 1895. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 18 June 1904. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 27 June 1908. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 7 June 1913. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Hugh McLeod reviews the historiography of the debate in his Religion and Irreligion in Victorian England: How Secular was the Working Class?, Bangor, Headstart History, 1993, pp. 5-10. He also questions the extent to which religion functioned as a social control in his ‘New Perspectives on Victorian Class Religion: The Oral Evidence’, Oral History, 14, 1986, p. 41. Google Scholar

Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman's Place: An Oral History of Working-class Women, New York, Basil Blackwell, 1984, pp. 4-6, 44, 170, 184. A Woman's Place: An Oral History of Working-class Women 4 6 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

David M. Thompson, ‘The Emergence of the Nonconformist Social Gospel in England’, in Keith Robbins (ed.), Protestant Evangelicalism: Britain, Ireland, Germany and America, New York, Basil Blackwell, 1990. Protestant Evangelicalism: Britain, Ireland, Germany and America Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us; June Purvis and Sandra Stanley Holton (eds), Votes for Women, New York, Routledge, 2000; Sandra Stanley Holton, Feminism and Democracy: Women's Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain, 1900-1918, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

For example see Martha Vicinus, Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850-1920, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1985, and Susan Kingsley Kent, Sex and Suffrage in Britain, 1860-1914, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1987. Google Scholar

A recent publication indicates that this trend is changing: Pamela J. Walker, Pulling the Devil's Kingdom Down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 2001. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 29 March 1940. Google Scholar

Indeed, this sentiment found its way into his obituary; see Darwen News, 29 March 1940. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It, p. 135. Google Scholar

Quoted in Co-operative News, 18 June 1904. Google Scholar

Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It, p. 132. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 11 October 1905. Google Scholar

Llewelyn Davies, The Women's Co-operative Guild, p. 61. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 30 June 1900; 27 February 1904. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 11 October 1905. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 19 November 1898. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 19 November 1898. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 4 May 1895. She added to this that they were working people ‘from a lower stratum’ than the Guild's working-class members. Unfortunately, it is not possible to explore the implications of her statement here. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 30 March 1901. Google Scholar

Jane Lewis, Women and Social Action in Victorian and Edwardian England, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1991. Women and Social Action in Victorian and Edwardian England Google Scholar

Lewis, Women and Social Action, p. 5. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 4 May 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

This was not the first time that the middle-class Sharp had had a difference of opinion with a Guildswoman of working-class origins as is recorded by Gaffin and Thoms, Caring and Sharing, p. 33. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 11 May 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us, pp. 63, 99. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It, p. 132. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 26 June 1909. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 27 November 1909. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 26 June 1909. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 27 November 1909. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Darwen News, 26 June 1909. Google Scholar

The Twenty-second Annual Report of the Women's Co-operative Guild, 1904-1905, p. 19. Google Scholar

Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us, p. 182. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

It is significant that Llewelyn Davies had to impress upon Guildswomen in her annual report following the 1909 Congress debacle over adult suffrage that the Guild would not oppose more limited franchise reform; see The Twenty-seventh Annual Report of the Women's Co-operative Guild, 1909-1910, p. 11. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Holton, Feminism and Democracy, pp. 61-2. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 20 November 1909. Google Scholar

238 delegates voted for the resolution, 232 against, with the votes of 231 delegates unaccounted for (‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 13 November 1909). Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 27 November 1909. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 4 December 1909. Google Scholar

Holton, Feminism and Democracy, pp. 62-6. Google Scholar

Holton, Feminism and Democracy, p. 63. Google Scholar

Maroula Joannou and June Purvis (eds), The Women's Suffrage Movement: New Feminist Perspectives, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1998, p. 6. The Women's Suffrage Movement: New Feminist Perspectives 6 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 26 June 1912. Bury refers to her long friendship with Reddish in an article in the Darwen News, 27 January 1912. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 26 June 1909. Google Scholar

Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us, p. 186. The tensions between class and gender allegiance for working-class women are further explored in June Hannam and Karen Hunt, Socialist Women: Britain, 1880s-1920s, New York, Routledge, 2001; and Karen Hunt, Equivocal Feminists: The Social Democratic Federation and the Woman Question, 1884-1911, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1996. Google Scholar

Roberts, A Woman's Place, and Paul Thompson, The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society, New York, Routledge, 1992. Google Scholar

The Guild's publication Maternity: Letters from Working Women, New York, Garland Publishing, 1980, records the horrors experienced by pregnant and nursing working-class women who ‘stinted’ themselves to feed their husbands and children. Google Scholar

Additional information on Selina Cooper may be found in Jill Liddington, The Life and Times of a Respectable Radical: Selina Cooper, London, Virago, 1984. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 13 November 1909. Google Scholar

The testimony of working-class women before the commission is recorded in the book that Llewelyn Davies published through the Women's Cooperative Guild, Working Women and Divorce, New York, Garland Publishing, 1980. Google Scholar

John R. Gillis, For Better or Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present, New York, Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 246-7. For Better or Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present 246 7 Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 3 May 1913. Note the change in title of this column. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 19 April 1913. Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 3 May 1913. Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 19 April 1913. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

For additional information on the Guild's rupture with the co-operative movement over the issue of divorce law reform, see Gillian Scott, ‘"Working out their own salvation": Women's Autonomy and Divorce Law Reform in the Co-operative Movement, 1910-1920’, in Stephen Yeo (ed.), New Views of Co-operation, London, Routledge, 1988. Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 3 May 1913. Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 7 June 1913. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 21 June 1913. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 21 June 1913. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 3 May 1913. Google Scholar

Anne Phillips, Divided Loyalties: Dilemmas of Sex and Class, London, Virago, 1987, p. 72. Divided Loyalties: Dilemmas of Sex and Class 72 Google Scholar

Phillips, Divided Loyalties, p. 65. Google Scholar

Phillips, Divided Loyalties, p. 72. Google Scholar

Some examples of early feminist histories which recount Guild activities are Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden from History, London, Pluto, 1973; Jill Liddington and Jill Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us, London, Virago, 1978. Jean Gaffin published on the Guild itself. See her ‘Women and Co-operation’, in Lucy Middleton (ed.), Women in the Labour Movement: The British Experience, London, Croom Helm, 1977, and the book she wrote with David Thoms, Caring and Sharing: The Centenary History of the Women's Co-operative Guild, Manchester, Co-operative Union, 1983. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Compare the interpretation of her career found in Gillian Scott, Feminism and the Politics of Working Women: The Women's Co-operative Guild, 1880s to the Second World War, London, UCL Press, 1998 with that found in Barbara J. Blaszak, The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement: A Study in Gender Politics and Female Leadership, 1883-1921, Westport, CT, Greenwood Press, 2000. Interestingly, even Gaffin and Thoms, whose book was published for the Guild's centenary, are more critical of Llewelyn Davies than Scott (see Caring and Sharing, pp. 29, 34, 91). Google Scholar

Margaret Llewelyn Davies, The Women's Co-operative Guild, 1883-1904, Kirkby Lonsdale, The Women's Cooperative Guild, 1904. Google Scholar

Bury tells the story of the Darwen branch formation and of her association with it in a report in the Darwen News, 11 October 1905. Google Scholar

These figures are taken from the reports of the secretary of the Darwen Guild, Elizabeth Law, as given annually in the Darwen News. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Gillian Scott uses Bury's words for the title of her article ‘"As a war-horse to the beat of the drums": Representations of Working-class Femininity in the Women's Co-operative Guild, 1880s to the Second World War’, in Eileen Janes Yeo (ed.), Radical Femininity: Women's Self-representation in the Public Sphere, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1998, and quotes her at the opening of it (p. 196) but does not include her Christian name. I cannot be absolved from guilt in this respect either as Bury figures prominently in my book, The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement, where I also refer to her as Mrs Bury. Google Scholar

Both Gaffin and Thoms, Caring and Sharing, and Scott, Feminism and the Politics of Working Women present the standard characterisation of the Guild as democratically run. Google Scholar

Blaszak, The Matriarchs of England's Cooperative Movement, ch. 5, offers additional discussion of this issue. Google Scholar

Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It, New York, W. W. Norton, 1975, pp. 131-5. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 18 June 1904. Google Scholar

Additional information about the relationship between the half-time system and working-class education can be found in Edmund and Ruth Frow, A survey of the half-time system in education, Manchester, E. J. Morten, 1970. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 29 July 1895. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 18 June 1904. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 27 June 1908. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 7 June 1913. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Hugh McLeod reviews the historiography of the debate in his Religion and Irreligion in Victorian England: How Secular was the Working Class?, Bangor, Headstart History, 1993, pp. 5-10. He also questions the extent to which religion functioned as a social control in his ‘New Perspectives on Victorian Class Religion: The Oral Evidence’, Oral History, 14, 1986, p. 41. Google Scholar

Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman's Place: An Oral History of Working-class Women, New York, Basil Blackwell, 1984, pp. 4-6, 44, 170, 184. A Woman's Place: An Oral History of Working-class Women 4 6 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

David M. Thompson, ‘The Emergence of the Nonconformist Social Gospel in England’, in Keith Robbins (ed.), Protestant Evangelicalism: Britain, Ireland, Germany and America, New York, Basil Blackwell, 1990. Protestant Evangelicalism: Britain, Ireland, Germany and America Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us; June Purvis and Sandra Stanley Holton (eds), Votes for Women, New York, Routledge, 2000; Sandra Stanley Holton, Feminism and Democracy: Women's Suffrage and Reform Politics in Britain, 1900-1918, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1986. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

For example see Martha Vicinus, Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850-1920, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1985, and Susan Kingsley Kent, Sex and Suffrage in Britain, 1860-1914, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 1987. Google Scholar

A recent publication indicates that this trend is changing: Pamela J. Walker, Pulling the Devil's Kingdom Down: The Salvation Army in Victorian Britain, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 2001. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 29 March 1940. Google Scholar

Indeed, this sentiment found its way into his obituary; see Darwen News, 29 March 1940. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It, p. 135. Google Scholar

Quoted in Co-operative News, 18 June 1904. Google Scholar

Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It, p. 132. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 11 October 1905. Google Scholar

Llewelyn Davies, The Women's Co-operative Guild, p. 61. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 30 June 1900; 27 February 1904. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 11 October 1905. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 19 November 1898. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 19 November 1898. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 4 May 1895. She added to this that they were working people ‘from a lower stratum’ than the Guild's working-class members. Unfortunately, it is not possible to explore the implications of her statement here. Google Scholar

Darwen News, 30 March 1901. Google Scholar

Jane Lewis, Women and Social Action in Victorian and Edwardian England, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 1991. Women and Social Action in Victorian and Edwardian England Google Scholar

Lewis, Women and Social Action, p. 5. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 4 May 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

This was not the first time that the middle-class Sharp had had a difference of opinion with a Guildswoman of working-class origins as is recorded by Gaffin and Thoms, Caring and Sharing, p. 33. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 11 May 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us, pp. 63, 99. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 9 February 1895. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Llewelyn Davies, Life as We Have Known It, p. 132. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 26 June 1909. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 27 November 1909. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 26 June 1909. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 27 November 1909. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Darwen News, 26 June 1909. Google Scholar

The Twenty-second Annual Report of the Women's Co-operative Guild, 1904-1905, p. 19. Google Scholar

Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us, p. 182. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

It is significant that Llewelyn Davies had to impress upon Guildswomen in her annual report following the 1909 Congress debacle over adult suffrage that the Guild would not oppose more limited franchise reform; see The Twenty-seventh Annual Report of the Women's Co-operative Guild, 1909-1910, p. 11. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Holton, Feminism and Democracy, pp. 61-2. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 20 November 1909. Google Scholar

238 delegates voted for the resolution, 232 against, with the votes of 231 delegates unaccounted for (‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 13 November 1909). Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 27 November 1909. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 4 December 1909. Google Scholar

Holton, Feminism and Democracy, pp. 62-6. Google Scholar

Holton, Feminism and Democracy, p. 63. Google Scholar

Maroula Joannou and June Purvis (eds), The Women's Suffrage Movement: New Feminist Perspectives, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1998, p. 6. The Women's Suffrage Movement: New Feminist Perspectives 6 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 26 June 1912. Bury refers to her long friendship with Reddish in an article in the Darwen News, 27 January 1912. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 26 June 1909. Google Scholar

Liddington and Norris, One Hand Tied Behind Us, p. 186. The tensions between class and gender allegiance for working-class women are further explored in June Hannam and Karen Hunt, Socialist Women: Britain, 1880s-1920s, New York, Routledge, 2001; and Karen Hunt, Equivocal Feminists: The Social Democratic Federation and the Woman Question, 1884-1911, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1996. Google Scholar

Roberts, A Woman's Place, and Paul Thompson, The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society, New York, Routledge, 1992. Google Scholar

The Guild's publication Maternity: Letters from Working Women, New York, Garland Publishing, 1980, records the horrors experienced by pregnant and nursing working-class women who ‘stinted’ themselves to feed their husbands and children. Google Scholar

Additional information on Selina Cooper may be found in Jill Liddington, The Life and Times of a Respectable Radical: Selina Cooper, London, Virago, 1984. Google Scholar

‘Woman's Corner’, Co-operative News, 13 November 1909. Google Scholar

The testimony of working-class women before the commission is recorded in the book that Llewelyn Davies published through the Women's Cooperative Guild, Working Women and Divorce, New York, Garland Publishing, 1980. Google Scholar

John R. Gillis, For Better or Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present, New York, Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 246-7. For Better or Worse: British Marriages, 1600 to the Present 246 7 Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 3 May 1913. Note the change in title of this column. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 19 April 1913. Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 3 May 1913. Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 19 April 1913. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

For additional information on the Guild's rupture with the co-operative movement over the issue of divorce law reform, see Gillian Scott, ‘"Working out their own salvation": Women's Autonomy and Divorce Law Reform in the Co-operative Movement, 1910-1920’, in Stephen Yeo (ed.), New Views of Co-operation, London, Routledge, 1988. Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 3 May 1913. Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 7 June 1913. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 21 June 1913. Google Scholar

Co-operative News, 21 June 1913. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

‘Women's Corner’, Co-operative News, 3 May 1913. Google Scholar

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Author details

Blaszak, Barbara