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Madame Restell
Madame Restell: The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Old New York's Most Fabulous, Fearless, and Infamous Abortionist | Jennifer Wright
34 posts | 14 read | 23 to read
In the vein of pop history books by Lindsey Fitzharris, Alexis Coe, and Paulina Bren, a sharp, witty Gilded Age medical history starring the glamorous Madame Restell, a fearless birth control provider and abortionist for unmarried women in NYC, in defiance of persecution from powerful men. Madame Restell is a sharp, witty Gilded Age medical history which introduces us to an iconic, yet tragically overlooked, feminist heroine: a glamorous women's healthcare provider in Manhattan, known to the world as Madame Restell. A celebrity in her day with a flair for high fashion and public, petty beefs, Restell was a self-made woman and single mother who used her wit, her compassion, and her knowledge of family medicine to become one of the most in-demand medical workers in New York. Not only that, she used her vast resources to care for the most vulnerable women of the city: unmarried women in need of abortions, birth control, and other medical assistance. In defiance of increasing persecution from powerful men, Restell saved the lives of thousands of young women and, in fact, as author Jennifer Wright says in own words, "despite having no formal training and a near-constant steam of women knocking at her door, she never lost a patient." Restell was a revolutionary who opened the door to the future of reproductive choice for women, and Wright brings Restell and her circle to life in this dazzling, sometimes dark, and thoroughly entertaining tale. In addition to uncovering the forgotten history of Restell herself, the book also doubles as an eye-opening look into the "greatest American scam you've never heard about": the campaign to curtail women's power by restricting their access to healthcare. Before the 19th century, abortion and birth control were not only legal in the United States, but fairly common, and public healthcare needs (for women and men alike) were largely handled by midwives and female healers. However, after the Birth of the Clinic, newly-minted male MDs wanted to push women out of their space--by forcing women back into the home and turning medicine into a standardized, male-only practice. At the same time, a group of powerful, secular men--threatened by women's burgeoning independence in other fields--persuaded the Christian leadership to declare abortion a sin, rewriting the meaning of "Christian morality" to protect their own interests. As Wright explains, "their campaign to do so was so insidious--and successful--that it remains largely unrecognized to this day, a century and a half later." By unraveling the misogynistic and misleading lies that put women's health in jeopardy, Wright simultaneously restores Restell to her rightful place in history and obliterates the faulty, fractured reasoning underlying the very foundation of what has since been dubbed the "pro-life" movement. Thought-provoking, character-driven, funny, and feminist as hell, Madame Restell is required reading for anyone and everyone who believes that when it comes to women's rights, women's bodies, and women's history, women should have the last word.
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staci.reads
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Mehso-so

This was a fascinating topic and seems well researched, but it was badly written. The continual use of 2nd person pov to talk directly to the reader is annoying. It is filled with the author's asides and random comments that feel more like a social media post or blog. The writing style is just immature and tries to be too "hip." It also gets very tedious when she includes long tangents about some loosely-connected historical aspect of the time. ⬇️

staci.reads While I appreciate the value of context, much of the book feels like filler. I read a review that said this would have been better served as an Atlantic article rather than a full-length book, and I agree whole-heartedly. This was my September #Bookspin - it just took me forever to get through @TheAromaofBooks 8mo
Leftcoastzen I hate it when this happens. Good information but bad writing. I have one I can‘t seem to get through because the writing is so bad. 8mo
Megabooks Excellent review! Agree 💯💯 8mo
TheAromaofBooks Great progress!! 8mo
56 likes4 comments
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JenniferEgnor
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JenniferEgnor
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This post is dedicated to Madame Restell, and it is for all of us. Also, ineedana.com.

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JenniferEgnor
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Pickpick

I have come across the story of this remarkable woman many times in other books, but only now learned the details of her life. Madame Restell, or Ann Trow, was a famous abortion provider in 19th century NY. She was fearless and determined to help others with their needs, be it contraception, or abortion. She could not be contained by the misogynist men around her. This is an important read as rights are rapidly disappearing for pregnant

JenniferEgnor capable peoplx in the United States. Highly recommended. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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Americans don‘t like learning history. They like learning propaganda. They enjoy stories that are exclusively about how America is great and always has been. Do not let your children believe in a fictitious, rosy version of the past where every woman was happily a mother. Tell them the true history of this country, where abortion has always been commonly practiced. And tell them your *own history.

SamAnne Word. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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A case could be made that forcing someone to undergo losing about half the blood in their body is worth it if it saves a life, but there are a great many bodily sacrifices that save lives. Donating a kidney to someone in need would, for example, absolutely save a sentient, fully developed life. Consenting to donate your organs after death saves lives, at no inconvenience to you. My life was saved because people donate blood. The government

JenniferEgnor can‘t force you to do any of those things, nor should it be able to. But in much of America, the land of the free, you *can be forced to give birth. Cis-gendered men are not generally expected to sacrifice their bodies to sustain others‘ lives in the way women are. As nice as it is to see a sign reminding me that the pint of blood I donate can save up to three lives, I do not go about informing those who choose not to give blood that they have 10mo
JenniferEgnor murdered three people. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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To point out that repealing women‘s access to birth control is, perhaps not motivated by a beneficent spirit on the part of Republican lawmakers feels a bit fruitless. Still, it remains easier to protect theoretical children—by forcing women to do something they do not wish to do at risk to their own health—then to protect actual children. The government can force a person to give birth, but its interest and responsibility ends there. It is a

JenniferEgnor wonderful way for certain politicians to seem caring without actually having to *do anything. 10mo
Sleepswithbooks Years ago I went to several doctors to get my tubes tied and was told “No.” Every doctor determined I was too young as a married woman to make that decision for myself. “Lawsuits” were the #1 reason. I heard, “Just have your husband get a vasectomy.” That would do NOTHING if I was assaulted. Now… abortion has become a battle again for every woman. I am SICKENED. (edited) 10mo
SamAnne @Sleepswithbooks I had the same experience in the early 90s as a 20-something. In a liberal city no less. So infuriating. It did not serve me well in life. I‘m just grateful to be past menopause. 10mo
JenniferEgnor @Sleepswithbooks @SamAnne I have heard these same stories from so many other women. When I asked for my tubes to be taken out, the male doctor proceeded to tell me about abstinence! He also didn‘t seem to think my heart condition was serious enough for a decision like this. (I already died once before. It‘s SERIOUS). My tubes are gone but I still have the other components…and could still get pregnant. What‘s going on in this country right ⬇️ 10mo
JenniferEgnor now is absolutely disgusting. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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There are quite a lot of people who would like to see women back in the kitchen, barefoot, and pregnant. Whether women like it or not. In America, the unspoken conservative position, now or 150 years ago, has been that a “good” woman is one who is virginal but flawlessly attractive enough to get a man to marry her, after which she should keep his house, satisfy all his sexual desires, bear and raise his children, and never complain for any reason

JenniferEgnor If you are a woman, and you don‘t criticize this outlook—if you loudly agree that these requirements are reasonable—there‘s still no guarantee that conservative men will be nice to you. But if you do complain, you can be sure they‘ll call you a bitch or a slut or a dog or, like Restell, the “wickedest woman in New York.” Just as they always have. It is exhausting, just as it has always been. And so, a great many people stay politely silent as 10mo
JenniferEgnor their rights slip away. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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Upon Madam Restell‘s death, the satirical magazine Puck ran a comical illustration depicting what Fifth Avenue might look like in five years. In Restell‘s absence, it imagined, the street would be filled with children and heavily pregnant women pushing baby carriages. That proved to be less than prophetic. Comstock had made abortion shameful for women, but he‘d done nothing to change the circumstances that caused women to have them. So, they

JenniferEgnor kept having them, though they often attempted to inflict such procedures on themselves rather than seeking the help of physicians. Without readily available information on the topic, they often had scant idea of how to go about this. They knew only that they would do anything not to be pregnant. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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Madame Restell may have died by suicide in that bathtub, Comstock‘s pursuit having overwhelmed her. Or she might have died later, peacefully sipping champagne in Paris and covered head to toe in her diamonds. But her age was over. The time when a woman could run ads in a newspaper suggesting family limitation and think that people would respond calmly was a thing of the past. Abortionists of the future would not flaunt themselves in their

JenniferEgnor carriages. They‘d try desperately to remain under the radar. Yes, Madame Restell‘s time was at an end. But American‘s long and contentious battle over abortion was only beginning. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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By 1873, Anthony Comstock was in Washington, attempting to convince legislators to pass the Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use. This would later come to be known as the “Comstock Act” which banned sending “obscene, lewd, or lascivious” publications through the mail. Unlike past laws, this one considered any information about contraception or abortion, as well as instruments or

JenniferEgnor pills that might prevent or eliminate a pregnancy, to be “obscene.” Essentially, not only would it forbid distributing birth control or performing abortions, it would also forbid even talking about them. After being debated for less than a day, the Comstock Act passed at 2:00 a.m. on March 3, 1873, and Comstock was appointed a special agent in the United States Post Office, charged with enforcing the law by examining the mail. In a special (edited) 10mo
JenniferEgnor charter, the New York state legislature granted to the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice the assistance of all police organizations in the state in order to ‘suppress the trade‘ in all obscene matters. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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Ah, yes. The consequences they were bringing upon the country by not having enough white Protestant babies. Historically, people who have treated minorities abominably have hated the idea of becoming a minority themselves. There was much emphasis on the fact that white women having abortions were undermining America as a whole, as “the Anglo-American race is actually dying out.” A pastor explained that abortion was evil precisely *because it

JenniferEgnor was causing “race deterioration in America.” 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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In the Draft Riots of 1863, New Yorkers, many white, turned violently against Black people. The riots broke out in Lower Manhattan, where lower-class people resented the fact that, for $300, upper-class men could buy their way out of the draft, as well as the fact that Black people, who were not citizens, were exempt. These unhappy draftees did not attack upper-class men, however; they attacked Black people. The people who felt abortion was

JenniferEgnor wrong because it might mean Protestants could be “replaced” by Irish Catholics in America were still afraid of being replaced. It was just that now their terror had turned toward being replaced by free Black people. 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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Beyond his conviction in fetal personhood, Storer‘s sentiments also had to do with his fears about the replacement of the white race in America. He wondered, regarding the western states, “Shall they be filled with our children or by those of aliens? This is the question that our own women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.”

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JenniferEgnor
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The AMA had been formed in 1847 with the intent to “promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.” It did so by calling for stricter regulations regarding medicines sold. The organization initially had no opinion on the subject of abortion. It only began taking a formal stance on the issue—coming out against it—in 1857, at the behest of the doctor Horatio Storer.

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JenniferEgnor
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Latching on to people‘s fears regarding immigration was an effective way to impugn women who got abortions as unpatriotic. In 1868, the anti-abortion author J. T. Cook worried that “the Anglo-Saxon race is rapidly dying out…and the Germans, and Irish, and Swedes…are fast taking the country…by the sheer force of their ever increasing armies of babies.” Cook felt the only answer for this was for women to “stop murdering their children, and stop

JenniferEgnor trying to defeat nature in any way, so that our American homes may again become populous with incipient citizens and voters, and incipient mothers of citizens and voters, and so that the American family shall not become an extinct institution in this country.” (edited) 10mo
JenniferEgnor Remember Amy Coney Barrett‘s request for a ‘domestic supply of infants‘ when hearing Dobbs v. Jackson? Remember all the times Trump‘s fans shouted ‘Send them back! They can‘t make white babies!‘ at his rallies? 10mo
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JenniferEgnor
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Making a witty, unrepentant, female millionaire abortionist relatable to an all-male jury is tricky, especially if these men are of the nineteenth-century mindset, believing that normal women have tiny skulls that only contain love, household skills, and/or hysteria.

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JenniferEgnor
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Admittedly, this is a generalized statement for all the men of the 1840s, but—no one is having sex “every five minutes.” No matter *how unchaperoned they are. Even just the *concept is exhausting. It is truly fascinating what men during this period thought could unleash a tidal wave of female lasciviousness—a speculum, a walk with a painter and his girlfriend, any unattended interaction with men. One can only imagine the disappointment of

JenniferEgnor these men to find that women are largely left unattended today, and yet, society has not devolved into an unending orgy, because women still have to buy groceries and go to work and call their moms and generally pursue things that are not ceaseless fornication. 10mo
8 likes1 comment
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bio_chem06
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Mehso-so

I hate to say that this book wasn‘t great. The story is so interesting, but I found myself dragging and pushing to keep reading. I think maybe it could‘ve been my reading mood, so I am not discouraging anyone to read it. If anyone else felt this way, let me know what you thought.

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ChaoticMissAdventures
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Pickpick

This was such an informative and witty book. The topic is very timely as the author notes throughout but especially in her very personal and must read epilogue.
4.5/5 it was filled with information but told in an engaging way.

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ChaoticMissAdventures
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@rachelsbrittain #weekendreads

🎧 Madame Restell & Collected Regrets to listen to while cleaning house and my daily jog

Making progress in Forever Amber, I got to the half way point last night, which puts me right on track to finish by end of month
I need to get Imogen back to the library by Sunday, so started that last night, it is a light YA read and super quick even if 400+ pages, it is my goal for Saturday.

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Amiable
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My NONFICTION pick for May is a timely and educational narrative of the life of British immigrant Ann Trow, who refashioned herself as “Madame Restell” and became NYC‘s most successful and simultaneously notorious abortion provider in the 1800s. The writing is lively and humorous while also making it starkly clear that throughout history women have always wanted to have autonomy over their own bodies. It‘s as simple as that.

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Amiable
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Pickpick

Timely and educational narrative of the life of British immigrant Ann Trow, who refashioned herself as “Madame Restell” and became NYC‘s most successful and simultaneously notorious abortion provider in the 1800s. The writing is lively and humorous while also making it starkly clear that throughout history women have always wanted to have autonomy over their own bodies. It‘s as simple as that.

#Nonfiction2023

KristiAhlers I really found this to be very interesting. 1y
Amiable @KristiAhlers There's a lot of good stuff in here! It took me longer to read than it really should have though, given its relatively short length. Not sure why. 1y
Amiable @KristiAhlers There's a lot of good stuff in here! It took me longer to read than it really should have though, given its relatively short length. Not sure why. 1y
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catiewithac
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Pickpick

Everyone is raving about this book for good reason! Madame Restell was an immigrant to NYC who embodied the American dream of rags to riches through hard work, cunning, and brazen self-confidence. This is an important part of American history-changes in attitudes toward abortion-but also an intimate glimpse of NYC during the 19th century. It‘s a timely read in our current political environment where abortion-and control of women- is under attack.

Texreader Brilliant review! Stacked! 1y
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Hooked_on_books
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Pickpick

This is the fascinating story of a bright, bold, unapologetic woman in mid-1800s NY who provided women‘s health care (extremely well) in the form of abortions and birth control. It‘s ridiculously timely given our current moment and shows how various things have changed (or not) over time. Excellent read.

TheBookHippie Oh good -this is on my list! 1y
squirrelbrain Sounds fab! 1y
johncadams Sadly a very timely topic for us all to be thinking about, as you say. 1y
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Amie
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Pickpick

Biography of 19th century abortionist in New York City. Madame Restell was complicated, mysterious, and wealthy. She provided a service for women who had few or no other options. Her story is interesting and this book intensified my anger about how people suffered (& still do) because of repressive laws and attitudes about reproductive rights.

It is a travesty that reproductive rights have not advanced as much as they should have since her time.

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KristiAhlers
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Pickpick

This is part of my #nonfictionchallenge #womenshistorymonthread and I found myself drawn into the history of this amazing woman. This is a MUST read for everyone, especially in light of recent laws being changed. This one will infuriate you. Or at least it did me. We had come so far only to fall back into archaic ways of thinking.

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sebrittainclark
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Pickpick

4.5/5

What a fascinating book. It looks at the life of the infamous 19th century abortionist adding in historical context of other figures she interacted with. It's a good example of how history is not a linear march toward progress. Many of the book's themes reflect our own era of misinformation and the criminalization of abortion. It's a good reminder that the past was not so different from the present.

#bookspin

50 likes3 stack adds1 comment
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sebrittainclark
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1. Madame Restell by Jennifer White (audio) and The Rom-Com Agenda by Jayne Denker (digital)

2. Good Inside by Dr. Becky Kennedy

3. How to Keep House While Drowning by KC Davis

#weekendreads @rachelsbrittain

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sebrittainclark
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Although it was 10:45 pm when Madame Restell opened the front door door of her fifth avenue brownstone, her face seemed unsurprised by what she saw: a strange man in a black suit, shivering on her landing.

#FirstLineFridays @ShyBookOwl

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Mpcacher
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Pickpick

This was an entertaining and well researched history of a woman abortionist in the mid-1800's. The historical information about the changing opinions around the morality of abortion and the use of both birth control & midwives, plus the reasons for those changes, were both fascinating and frustrating. It is no surprise that much of the reasoning was to benefit males, but it also appealed to racists who worried about white birth rates. 4.5/5

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akaGingerK
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Pickpick

A remarkable exploration of America‘s changing views on abortion through the 19th c, through the lens of the life‘s work of a single New York provider. In addition to the biographical & abortion-related information, learned a lot of the social history of New York in the decades before and after the Civil War.

Restell was a fascinating woman, and her depiction here is complex, very warts-and-all. #ALC

catiewithac This is on my TBR and library hold list!! 1y
akaGingerK @catiewithac Excellent! 1y
MallenNC This sounds very interesting! 1y
13 likes3 comments
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akaGingerK
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Couldn‘t figure out why there were still three tracks and about an hour of listening time left when the word “Epilogue” was uttered. The final track of this ALC from libro.fm is an interview between narrator/reader and the author- very cool bonus!

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PNWBookseller85
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Pickpick

A really fabulous, engaging, and snarky history of an abortionist in the late 1800s New York. This is such an important book for our times. The epilogue was really well done as well.

SamAnne Stacked. 2y
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