Posts filed under ‘Myth Busting’

Tootsie Roll Tragedy: The Real Leo Hirschfeld Story

It’s 1909, and The Stern & Saalberg Company has a candy hit. Americans just can’t get enough of their “Chocolate Tootsie Rolls.” Those Tootsie Rolls have gotten so popular that they have to take out ads in the trade papers cautioning their customers against accepting inferior imitation. But who is this “Stern & Saalberg” who is taking all the credit for Chocolate Tootsie Rolls? Where is Leo Hirschfeld?

As candy nostalgists know, Leo Hirschfeld is the official hero of the Tootsie Roll saga. Today, Tootsie Roll is one of the top candy sellers in the U.S. And it all started with Leo, a poor Austrian immigrant with a dream and some family candy recipes. According to the Tootsie Roll Industries company history, Hirschfeld began selling the chewy candies in his little shop in New York City in 1896. The next thing you know, it’s 1917, Tootsie Rolls are a huge commercial hit, and the company changes its name to “The Sweets Company of America.” From that point out, the Tootsie empire grows in leaps and bounds. The story of Tootsie Roll after 1917 is one of a big candy company getting bigger.

There doesn’t seem to be anybody named Stern or Saalberg in official Tootsie Roll history. So what was happening in that murky gap between 1896 and 1917? And what happened to Leo Hirschfeld?

Let’s follow Leo along as he leaves his native Austria and struggles to make it in America. When Leo got off the steamship Neckar in the New York Harbor in 1884, he had two things: big dreams, and empty pockets. His father’s trade was candy, so that’s what he knew. He got to work. He set up shop in Brooklyn, sold some candy to the neighborhood kids. So far, so good.

But here’s where things get a little complicated. The common version of the story (here or here) is that Hirschfeld came up with the candy that would become Tootsie Rolls in 1896, made and wrapped them by hand, and sold them in his Brooklyn shop. A year later, seeing their popularity, he “merged” with Stern & Saalberg.

A nice story, right? But I uncovered evidence that blasts some serious holes in the official line on Tootsie Rolls.

In 1913, a reporter for the Pittsburgh Press sat down with Hirschfeld and three others who had shared his cabin on the Neckar in 1884. All of them were by then extremely wealthy. Each had a remarkable rags-to-riches story. One was a movie mogul, another made a fortune in fancy goods. And Hirschfeld’s story was all about the candy business. “[Hirschfeld] fought his way up until he became Superintendent of the Stern-Saalberg concern. Then he invented a certain children’s confection”…the Tootsie Roll. Notice the way Hirschfeld told the story to this reporter in 1913: first he went to work for Stern & Saalberg, then he invented the Tootsie Roll. And what’s all this about “fought his way up” in the Stern & Saalberg company? That doesn’t sound exactly like a merger of equals.

I went looking for a record of Hirschfeld in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn city directory lists Hirschfeld as a “confectioner” with a home address on Myrtle Avenue until 1890. Then in 1891, he moves to Manhattan. His new address is 356 W. 45th Street. So, no candy shop in Brooklyn in 1896. But why did he move?

I dug a little deeper, and found more clues. Leo Hirschfeld is remembered as the man with the candy recipe. But he was really an inventor, of never-before imagined candies and confections and machines as well. The U.S. Patent Office awarded one patent to Leo Hirschfeld in December 1894 and two more in July of 1895: US Patent 530,417 for a machine for depositing confectionery into molds, U.S. Patent 543,733 for a bonbon dipping machine, and U.S. Patent 543,744 which describes a novel fork for dipping bonbons. (Hirschfeld would receive at least four other patents, not a bad record for inventions.)

The 1890s were boom years for candy making technology; making money in candy was all about volume, and volume was all about the machines. A good patent could be worth a lot. But in 1894 and 1895, the U.S. Patent Office records that Leo Hirshfeld assigned half of each of these patents to Julius Stern and Jacob Saalberg. Why would he do that?

Here’s what I think happened: sometime between May 1, 1891 and May 1, 1892, Hirschfeld moved to Manhattan because he took a job with Stern & Saalberg. His Manhattan address is only five blocks from the offices of Stern & Saalberg Co. at 311 W. 40th Street. This also explains why he would assign a half interest in his patents to Julius Stern and Jacob Saalberg. They were his employers.

Well before Stern & Saalberg started selling Tootsie Rolls, they had another hot item: Bromangelon Jelly Powder.  Jelled desserts were all the rage at the turn of the century. Jell-O is the only one we remember, but around 1900 you could have your pick of such temptations as Jellycon, Tryphora, and Bro-Man-Gel-On (also known as Bromangelon). And who had invented this alchemical substance with the doubly masculine name, a pink powder which, when you added hot water, tranformed into sweet fruity jelly? Why, Leo Hirschfeld.

The first documented evidence of the existence of Bromangelon that I have uncovered is the catalog for the Nineteenth Triennial Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association held in Boston in October and November of 1895. Stern & Saalberg participated in the Exhibition to showcase their remarkable product, Bromangelon. They explained that the unusual name meant “Angel’s Food.” They may have just been trying to impress the judges with this little tid-bit. They seemed quite casual about calling it “Bro-Man-Gel-On” or “Broman-gelon” in their ads, and neither of these seems to have anything to do with angels. Angels or no, the judges, finding the ingredient “pure” and the taste “pleasant,” awarded this dessert jelly preparation a Bronze Medal.

Bromangelon was big business for Stern & Saalberg from the late 1890s through the first years of 1900. Jellied dessert powders like Bromangelon were one of the first “convenience” foods that would transform American cooking in the twentieth century. Dessert was suddenly just a matter of some hot water and some imagination. And what you could do with the stuff. An ad for Shredded Wheat Biscuits in Good Housekeeping Magazine in 1900 included a recipe and a full color illustration of “Shredded Wheat Biscuit Jellied Apple Sandwich” that involved soaking the shredded wheat in Bromangelon to startling effect. Many other recipes in popular magazines of the early 1900s included “Bromangelon” as an ingredient to whip up such novelties as “Nut Bromangelon,” “Bromangelon Snow Pudding,” or “Orange Sponge.” Bromangelon is long gone, but in the 1900s and 1910s, it was well-known, and well-used, all over the country.

Stern & Saalberg were exhibiting Hirschfeld’s jelly powder in 1895. Together with the patent assignations in 1894 and 1895 and the evidence of Hirshfeld’s move from Brooklyn to Manhattan in 1891, this adds up to a pretty clear case for Hirschfeld working for Stern & Saalberg well before anybody started thinking about Tootsie Rolls.

Hirschfeld worked his way up at Stern & Saalberg Co. In 1904, the entry for Stern & Saalberg in the Trow Co-partnership and Corporation Directory of New York City mentions Hirschfeld for the first time, naming him as one of three “directors.” By 1913, Hirschfeld is the Vice President of Stern & Saalberg, and seven hundred million pieces of Tootsie Roll have rolled out the door and into the mouths and bellies of America. Seven hundred million pieces of candy, even lowly penny candy, is lots of dollars. Hirschfeld and Stern & Saalberg did very well together.

And when did anyone start thinking about Tootsie Rolls? The Stern & Saalberg Co. applied for a trade-mark for “Tootsie” for their “chocolate candy” in November 1908. The trade-mark was registered on September 14, 1909. They stated in their application that “Tootsie” had been used in association with the candy since (drum roll, please)…September 1908.

There was a “Tootsie” in the Stern & Saalberg Co. business before September 1908, but it didn’t have anything to do with candy. Booklets printed to advertise Bromangelon featured “Tattling Tootsie,” a cute little girl whose mischief seems only tangentially connected to the joys of gelatin. We do know who this Tattling Tootsie is. Every story of the genesis of Tootsie Rolls mentions Clara, Leo’s little daughter. Her nickname was “Tootsie,” and the story goes that the candy was christened in her honor. But first, she did her time as the child spokes-model for fruity gelatin.

Did Hirschfeld make or sell a candy resembling the one that would be marketed as “Tootsie Roll” some time before? Maybe. But there is another piece of the Tootsie Roll puzzle. In May of 1907, Hirschfeld applied for a patent for a candy-making technique that would give Tootsie Rolls their distinctive texture (U.S. Patent 903,088; for more on the patent, see my Tough Tootsie, and How it Got to Be That Way). The patent was awarded in November, 1908. The Stern & Saalberg Co. started selling “Tootsie Rolls” in September 1808, and really began a big advertising and marketing push in 1909.

All the patents, trade-marks, and advertising put Tootsie Rolls in motion between 1907 and 1909. As far as I can gather from the evidence, the invention of Tootsie Rolls in 1896 in Hirschfeld’s little Brooklyn candy store is a myth.

Tootsie Rolls made Leo Hirschfeld very rich. He couldn’t have done it on his own, though. Without Stern & Saalberg, an established business with sufficient capital to launch a major candy line, Hirschfeld would have languished in his little Brooklyn house, selling bits of candy to the neighborhood kids. And without Hirschfeld and his inventions, The Stern & Saalberg Company would have gone on as a small candy wholesaler offering “Fluffy Mints” and “Diamond” brand gelatin dessert mix. But The Stern & Saalberg Company went on to become The Sweets Company of America, which in turn became Tootsie Roll Industries, a business today worth well over one billion dollars.

And what happened to Leo Hirschfeld?

The end of the story is not quite so sweet. Hirschfeld left The Sweets Company of America sometime around 1920 to start another candy venture called the Mells Candy Corporation. 1921 was a bad year. His wife was seriously ill, and recuperating in a sanatorium. Hirschfeld himself suffered from a disease of the stomach. On January 13, 1922 he shot himself in his room at the Monterey Hotel at 94th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. He died that same day. The note he left for his attorney said “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t help it.”

That’s the official story from his obituary, at any rate.

I think it was more complicated. By the time Stern & Saalberg reorganized as The Sweets Company of America in 1917, Stern and Saalberg were both retired. But Hirschfeld, who had been there longer than anyone else, had never risen beyond Vice-President. Others came in and took over the company. Hirschfeld was a brilliant inventor, but maybe not such a great business man. He was pushed out at The Sweets Company of America, so he ventured out on his own to start fresh with the Mells Candy Corporation. But nothing came of it. Mells was bankrupt by 1924.

What was really going through Hirschfeld’s mind that January day in 1922 when he pulled the trigger? Someone else was selling his Tootsie Rolls, and Mells Candy had nothing to show. He died wealthy, to be sure. But if he had hopes of building a candy dynasty, one he could pass on to his own children, those hopes were dashed by The Sweets Company of America.

By the way, Tootsie Roll for some reason spells Leo’s last name “Hirshfield.” This is not the way Leo spelled it in directories or patents or anyplace else. Until the day he died, it was “Hirschfeld.”

ADDENDUM: After I published this post, Steve Sheehan got in touch with me. It turns out I’m not the only one who’s been poking around in the murky Tootsie Roll past. Steve’s extensive unpublished archival research into Stern & Saalberg and related matters corroborates my findings. He drew my attention to this transcript of an 1896 New York State Assembly Hearing which names “Hirschfeld” first among some 50 employees of the Stern & Saalberg Company. Incontrovertible proof, as Steve puts it, that in 1896 Hirschfeld “was not selling candy out of his store. He was a salaried employee supervising the Stern & Saalberg line.” (Personal communication)

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Sources: In addition to the sources linked or referenced by name in this post, I also consulted Leo Hirschfeld obituaries in  New York Tribune 14 Jan 1922 and New York Times 14 Jan 1922; announcement of Mells bankruptcy auction, New York Times July 30, 1924; various announcements of financing and directors meetings relating to The Sweets Company of America, Wall Street Journal 1919-1920; city and business directories for New York City, Manhattan and Brooklyn.

This article was originally published at candyprofessor.com in February, 2010

January 4, 2014 at 3:26 pm 1 comment

Black Crows Unmasked

Some time ago I published a post on the disputed nomenclature of the candy we know as “Black Crows” (read it here).  Candy lore has it that the real name was supposed to be “Black Rose,” but some miscommunication resulted in birds instead of flowers. My post was a “proof” that Black Crows must have been the original name.

But why “Black Crows”? Now I think I know.

Today in a 1917 history of the confectionery trade in the city of Philadelphia, I discover this mention in passing:

In the early 40′s, Sebastian Henrion made the first Cream Chocolates and Jim Crows, the latter, which were quite black, being named after a troupe of colored minstrels then playing.

Get it? Jim Crows, Black Crows. The candy is, after all, quite black. So when you see that dandy crow in a top hat, think “racist minstral stereotype.” Mmmm, the taste of America.

Source: Ellwood B. Chapman, The Candy Making Industry in Philadelphia, Educational Pamphlet No. 6, Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, 1917, page 4. See it here.

February 10, 2012 at 10:48 pm 4 comments

Drunken Gummy Bears

The  latest teen scandal: getting drunk on gummy bears.

I heard it this way, from CBS Newspath (Salinas CA):

They’re a sweet staple of any kid’s afternoon pick me up. But now Hollister police—who posted this warning on their facebook page today—and the San Benito County Health Department want you to know gummy bears aren’t so innocent anymore. [Teens] are soaking gummy bears with vodka and the bears soak up all the alcohol so its undetectable.

Hankla says, “teens are very creative and intelligent and can think of ways to sneak alcohol past adults. They can ingest more than they know theyre ingesting because they are taking handfuls of candy and they don’t know how much they’ve ingested so they can become pretty intoxicated pretty quickly.”

Urban legend radar on high alert: kids getting drunk on candy, sounds like oh so many other candy=drugs stories, which invariably turn out to be about 99.9% fantasy.

In this case, it’s a bit more complicated.

My first thought was that this was impossible: gummy bears, like any candy, would dissolve in the vodka. I figured that maybe the story got started when some gang of drunk teens were eating gummy bears, and a candy-hating adult drew her own conclusions.

But my candy biases might be swaying me too far in the other direction. To the laboratory! My assistant and I picked up some vodka and gummy bears on the way home last night, and some candy corn and skittles for comparison.

We doused all the candy in vodka, and here are the results (L to R: candy corn, skittles, gummy bear):

As you can see, the gummy bears are still in tact, some 12 hours after their vodka splash, and the vodka that was in the bowl has disappeared. They don’t dissolve, they absorb. And this absorbent quality has captured the imagination of kids looking for ever new ways to deliver alcohol to the brain. In this video from Detroit, investigators pour a liter of vodka on a full pan of gummy bears. The next day, vodka-plumped bears.

So against my skepticism, this time I credit the story. It’s possible, it’s appealing, it’s probably true.

Related post: Ecstasy Candy Hearts? I doubt it.

 

 

October 11, 2011 at 12:40 pm 15 comments

Contagious Cavities

One of the favorite themes of the candy alarmists is dental decay: candy causes cavities! How many times have you heard that one? But it just ain’t so.

From no less an authority than the New York Times, this week’s Science section:

While candy and sugar get all the blame, cavities are caused primarily by bacteria that cling to teeth and feast on particles of food from your last meal.

Your last meal. Did you hear that? Not candy, not at all. It’s food, just plain old food, that those cavity-causing bacteria crave.

And there’s more. Those bacteria? Turns out not everybody has them in their mouths. So some people eat only approved virtuous vittles and end up with teeth like swiss cheese, and others suck lollies all day long and pose as tooth models on the weekend. No, life is not fair.

It gets worse. Those cavity bacteria are contagious. Kiss the wrong frog, and you may soon be enjoying the dulcet tones of the dental drill.

Moms, of course, get the short end of the stick either way. When kids cavities are believed to be evidence of a candy habit, mom gets the blame for allowing her darlings to taste of the forbidden not-fruit. And when we realize it’s all because of bad bacteria?

Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to [the bacteria], and studies have shown that most pick it up from their caregivers–for example, when a mother tastes a child’s food to make sure it’s not too hot…

Bad mother!

 

March 30, 2011 at 9:34 am 8 comments

Ecstasy Candy Hearts? I doubt it.

What does this look like to you? Valentines candy? Or the party drug Ecstasy?

A report surfaced in Canada last week of a stash of the substance depicted above seized during a drug bust. The perps had been under surveillance for a while, and were hauled in on posession and distribution charges. They definitely had drugs: a half-pound of cocaine and “a quantity” of Ecstasy. But it seems they also had some of the motto candy hearts most commonly found in kids’ Valentine cards.

The report is extremely vague on how the presence of these candies led the police to conclude that the candy was actually drugs. It just states: “The ecstasy was in the form of a popular kids candy.” The photo of the bust items, however, clearly shows bags of pills along with the candy. Did the police taste or test the candy? Or is candy in a drug dealer’s kitchen just automatically suspect.

So the alarm is out: drug pushers are endangering children with candy-shaped pills. Citizens responded with appropriate panic:

I have candy that look exactly like this on top of my fridge right now. These people need to be put away for a long, long time.

Esctasy may not be highly addictive, if in fact you know what you are talking about there. But a child getting their hands on two or three of these and eating them thinking they are candy could really put them in harms way, this could very even lead to death.

I have a young son who has eaten candy hearts that looked like this. We need judges who will make examples with stiffer jail terms for these low lives. People who disguise kids candies as drugs need to be put on a firing range. I would have no problem watching these scum bags gasp for their last breath.

Well, you get the general idea (these are comments from the news report on the web site of The Telegram, link below). With no substantiation, and a highly unlikely premise, this news story stirs the pot. The image of children lured down the path with candy is too powerful to question.

But in fact, the story gives no evidence at all that these hearts are Ecstasy. And as many commentators point out, Ecstasy tastes terrible, and chewing it in candy form is not going to be a pleasant experience (disclaimer: I have not investigated this personally, I’m just going on the comments). The kicker for me is the image of the candy itself: are we seriously meant to believe that a drug dealing couple in St. John, Canada, has gone to the considerable effort and expense of setting up a whole candy manufacturing operation to make these drug hearts? Because folks, you can’t just make these at home. And yet, the news report is presented with a totally straight face. Out of 40 comments on the Telegram story, only 2 actually question the premise that the hearts hide drugs.

Most people find it easy to believe that drug pushers are hiding their wares in candy. This is just the mirror image of our long-standing and deeply held suspicion of candy itself: it’s easy to believe that what looks like innocent candy is really a potent drug.

http://www.thetelegram.com/News/Local/2011-02-21/article-2259450/RCMP-seize-ecstasy-in-the-form-of-kids-candy/1

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/newfoundland-labrador/story/2011/02/22/nl-candy-drugs-222.html?ref=rss

Images from the Telegram story, credited to Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

February 28, 2011 at 9:25 am 3 comments

Another Tootsie Girl

Here at Candy Professor, we’re on the elusive trail of “Tootsie.”

The official Tootsie Roll story is that candy inventor Leo Hirschfeld named the chewy chocolate bite after his little daughter Clara, nickname “Tootsie.”

As I discussed in the previous post, a little girl called “Tattling Tootsie” was used to promote an earlier Stern & Saalberg product, Bromangleon dessert powder (which was also a Hirschfeld invention). But Tattling Tootsie doesn’t seem to have been used to promote Tootsie Rolls.

But here’s an intriguing image, courtesy of John and Stephanie Cook, who found this advertising card used as the backing for an old print:

Is this Tootsie? The verse doesn’t seem to suggest a name; here’s a best guess reconstruction suggested by the Cooks:

Why has the hungry [little girl] begun her lunch so [soon?]

Because you cannot [make her wait] for Tootsie Rolls [till noon.]

I don’t know what Clara Hirschfeld looked like. But this Tootsie Roll tyke in no way resembles Tattling Tootsie used in the Bromangelon ads.

The Bromangelon Tootsie is from around 1907. As for the Tootsie Roll girl, there are several clues that help date this ad. The wrapper in the image was introduced in 1913. The earlier wrapper said “Chocolate Tootsie Roll”, the new wrapper and packaging introduced in 1913 added “Chocolate Candy Tootsie Roll.” I do know that in 1919 the wrapper looked totally different, but it is most likely that by 1917 at the latest Tootsie Roll was not using this style wrapper. So I would put this placard as being before WWI, but no older than 1913.

I think these two little Tootsie girls tell us more about changing images of girl-hood and advertising than they do about Clara Hirschfeld. The earlier Tattling Tootsie is explicitly connected with the home. Her outfit and pose are unambiguously feminine. She is prim and proper: her dress and hair are neat and controlled. Bromangelon was marketed to housewives as a convenience food, so perhaps the neat and prim little girl also suggests the successful mother who keeps her child looking so well-tended.

But the later Tootsie Roll girl seems more mischievous.  The bow in her hair assures us she is a girl, but her drooping socks and ambiguous clothes suggest more outdoors and active adventure. Her school books locate her outside the home, away from parents and parental controls. And this girl is a little naughty: she won’t wait to eat her Tootsie Roll. This ad may have been aimed as much at children as at adults; in this period, it would not have been uncommon for a child to purchase such candy on her own, much as suggested in this ad.

By the way, I believe the artist has taken some liberty in drawing the Tootsie Roll candy to monstrous scale for visual effect. The tube in the girl’s hand seems to be immense, bigger even than her school books. But actual Tootsie Roll candy as you would have found it for sale in this period was probably more like 3-4 inches long.

Thanks to John and Stephanie Cook for their permission to share this image and for their enthusiasm for candy sleuthing.

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January 25, 2011 at 11:10 am 1 comment

The Beginning of Candy

Well, not the beginning of candy for all time. Let’s say, the beginning of the American candy industry.

1847. That’s the year Oliver Chase, a Boston druggist, came up with the idea of a machine to speed up the making of medicinal lozenges. There’s more about Chase and the invention of the lozenge machine in my first post on Oliver Chase here.

I come back to Chase today because I just recently found an image of what a “Chase lozenge” might have actually looked like:


This is an ad for the New England Confectionery Company, the inheritor of Oliver Chase’s original business. Today we assume that the Necco Wafer is essentially the same candy as Chase’s original lozenge. That’s what I thought, until I was this image.

Here we see that the Chase Lozenge was thicker than Necco Wafers. Also, in this ad, Necco lists “lozenges” separately from “wafers,” indicating that they are not the same goods.

The “Chase Lozenge” was still in the Necco line up in 1921, the year this ad was published. Necco had patented the name “Chase” and the logo with the big “C” for this candy, which tells us that they were worried about imitators who would try to profit by making similar lozenges and passing them off as “Chase” originals.

The Chase Lozenge is basically sugar paste: powdered sugar kneaded with gum arabic or gum tragcath (both edible binders) that could be molded like clay and then dried. Confectionery made of sugar paste would keep indefinitely.

So why would a druggist be messing around with lozenges, anyway? Oliver Chase, like all nineteenth century druggists, was familiar with the uses of sugar to make the medicine go down. I learned from Laura Mason’s book Sugar Plums and Sherbet about what sort of lozenges apothecaries might make in the nineteenth century. She explains that sugar paste in particular was a valuable medium for apothecaries working with only basic implements because the drug could be mixed in to the paste and the lozenges cut to regular size.  The advantage to these medicinal lozenges was that they would deliver a reasonably accurate dose, and that the medicine would be released slowly as the lozenge dissolved.

Chase was probably not the first to leave out the drugs and sell the lozenges as candy. But once the use of machinery started speeding up the process of making lozenges, they took off.  By 1890, one candy-making manual explained that machinery had transformed the making of lozenges:

Twenty years ago, lozenges were mixed and cut by journeymen confectioners…within the last few years, machinery  has been introduced which mixes, rolls, stamps and cuts, all the manual labor that is required is simply a superintendent..turning out many hundredweights a day.

I’ve seen countless variations and brands of lozenges and wafers advertised in the early 1900s. Kids would eat them in rolls, and grown ups would pass them around in the candy dish. We still have Necco Wafers today. And we still have something a lot like the Chase Lozenge.

These are just called “pink lozenges.’ I don’t see them around much. But if you find this candy, eat some and imagine you’re back in 1847.

Sources: Chase Lozenge ad appeared in Confectioners Journal Nov. 1921. Skuse’s The Confectioners Handbook (1890) is quoted in Laura Mason, Sugar Plums and Sherbet: The Prehistory of Sweets (1998), p. 148. You can shop for pink lozenges and other old fashioned candies at End of the Commons.

May 26, 2010 at 10:04 am 3 comments

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Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure

Welcome to Candy Professor

Candy in American Culture What is it about candy? Here you'll find the forgotten, the strange, the curious, the surprising. Our candy story, one post at a time.

Samira Kawash, PhD
Professor Emerita,
Rutgers University

(C) Samira Kawash

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