Tale Of Typhoid Mary Is Based On The True Story Of A US Irish Immigrant In 1900s

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Here’s the story of Mary Mallon who came to be known as “Typhoid Mary.” She was a single woman who had immigrated to the USA from Ireland in the early 1900s, during Ireland’s “potato famine” period. She ended up working as a cook for a wealthy  New York City Family.

The early 1900s in the US, is when too many Americans were knee steeped in “Nativism” as well as being in possession of a disapproving attitude towards an independent working woman earning a living, and for having a relationship with a man outside of marriage. Unfortunately, these attributes were used later by the state in its treatment against her because she had the misfortune of being a healthy carrier of “typhoid fever.”

She’s an example of how a healthy carrier of a deadly disease can kill numerous other individuals and why it’s important to have widespread easily accessible testing for anyone suspected of having the coronavirus COV-19 infection. Today, there are lots of “super- spreaders” like Mary Mallon walking around while we and they are clueless.

If you say the name Mary Mallon to someone today, most listeners wouldn’t know who you were talking about. But just say the name “Typhoid Mary”, though, and a majority of people will at least, have heard of the name. Surprisingly, many today don’t know that “Typhoid Mary” was really an Irish immigrant and cook who lived the New York City area in the early 1900s.

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Here’s the rest of the story…

As per a 6/2016 University of Washington Tacoma thesis by Claire Sandoval-Peck, “From “Destroying Angel” to “The Most Dangerous Woman in America”: A Study of Mary Mallon’s Depiction in Popular Culture:”


“The nickname “Typhoid Mary” did not enter the popular vocabulary until June 20, 1909, when William Randolph Hearst’s magazine New York American published an article entitled “‘TYPHOID MARY’ – MOST HARMLESS AND YET THE MOST DANGEROUS WOMAN IN AMERICA.” The article went on to describe her as a half-human creature, who was also a “fever factory” and a “human vehicle,”who had to be guarded constantly in order not to run away, and who was the most mysterious case in the hospital’s history.”

Image result for IMAGES OF MARY MALONE 1900S“As Judith Walzer Leavitt puts it in her book Typhoid Mary:Captive to the Public’s Health, Mallon “had the distinction, at age of thirty-seven, of being the first person in North America to be identified, charted, and reported in the literature as a healthy typhoid carrier.”

Due to Mallon’s extensive publicity, her story was well-known and became not only
newspaper and magazine material, but was mentioned in textbooks and fiction stories. One
textbook published in 1935, titled Science In Our Social Life, asked “What other people besides cooks might be dangerous as carriers of typhoid?”

“Mallon’s story crossed the pond and was made into a satiric poem in 1909, entitled “The Germ-Carrier.” It was published in the British humor magazine Punch, where a portion of it reads:”

“Beneath her outside’s healthy gloze
Masses of microbes seethe and wallow
And everywhere that MARY goes
Infernal epidemics follow.”


On March 17, 2020, Nina Strochlic of National Geographic has penned the following real story behind the legend of “Typhoid Mary, Typhoid Mary’s tragic tale exposed the health impacts of ‘super-spreaders.’ (“Tracking down the culprit behind an outbreak of typoid fever in 1900s New York was a breakthrough in how symptom-free carriers can spread sickness.”)


“GEORGE SOPER WAS not your typical detective. He was a civil engineer by training, but had become something of an expert in sanitation. So when, in 1906, a landlord in Long Island was struggling to trace the source of a typhoid outbreak, Soper was called in. The landlord had rented his Long Island house to a banker’s family and servants that summer. By late August, six of house’s the 11 inhabitants had fallen ill with typhoid fever.”

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“Soper had been previously hired by New York state to investigate disease outbreaks—“I was called an epidemic fighter,” he later wrote—and believed that typhoid could be spread by one person serving as a carrier. In Long Island, he focused his attention on the cook, Mary Mallon, who had arrived three weeks before the first person became ill.”

“Combing through the roster of wealthy New Yorkers who had employed Mallon in their summer homes between 1900 and 1907 he found a trail of 22 infected people. Typhoid fever is a bacterial infection typically spread through food and water contaminated by salmonella. Patients fall ill with high fever, diarrhea—and, before antibiotics were developed to treat it, sometimes delirium and death.”

“At that time, without regulated sanitation practices in place, the disease was fairly common and New York had battled multiple outbreaks. In 1906, the year Soper began his investigation, a reported 639 people had died of typhoid in New York. But never before had an outbreak been traced to a single carrier—and certainly not one without any symptoms themselves.”

“Soper learned that Mallon would often serve ice cream with fresh peaches on Sunday. Compared to her hot, cooked meals, he deduced that “no better way could be found for a cook to cleanse her hands of microbes and infect a family.”

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NYC IN 1900

Hunting the carrier

“Four months after he started the investigation, Soper found Mallon working in a Park Avenue brownstone. The 37-year-old Irish cook, he later described, was “five feet six inches tall, a blond with clear blue eyes, a healthy color and a somewhat determined mouth and jaw.” When confronted with his evidence and a request for urine and feces samples, she surged at Soper with a carving fork.”

“Dr. S. Josephine Baker, an up-and-coming advocate of hygiene and public health, was dispatched to convince Mallon to provide samples, but was also chased away. Baker, whose father had died of typhoid, later made it her mission to promote preventative medicine (and became the first woman to earn a doctorate in public health). “It was Mary’s tragedy that she could not trust us,” Baker later wrote.”

“Finally, Mallon was escorted by Baker and five policemen to a hospital where—after a nearly successful escape attempt—she tested positive as a carrier for Salmonella typhi, a bacteria that causes typhoid. This would later be confirmed by more tests. She was quarantined in a small house on the grounds of Riverside Hospital. The facility was isolated on North Brother Island, a tiny speck of land off the Bronx.”

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“Mallon herself had no symptoms of typhoid and didn’t believe she could be spreading it. It’s likely Mallon never understood the meaning of being a carrier, particularly since she exhibited no symptoms herself. The only cure, doctors told Mallon, was to remove her gallbladder, which she refused. She was dubbed “Typhoid Mary” by the New York American in 1909 and the name stuck.”

“In a hand-written letter to her lawyer that June, Mallon complained. “I have been in fact a peep show for everybody. Even the interns had to come to see me and ask about the facts already known to the whole wide world. The tuberculosis men would say ‘There she is, the kidnapped woman,’” she wrote. “Dr. Park has had me illustrated in Chicago. I wonder how  Dr. William H. Park would like to be insulted and put in the Journal and call him or his wife Typhoid William Park.”

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“In 1909, she sued the NYC Department of Health and the case was brought to the Supreme Court. In the court of public opinion, Mallon had stirred a debate over individual autonomy and the state’s responsibility in a public health crisis. In the court of law, her lawyer argued she had been imprisoned without due process.”

“The court declined to release her, saying “it must protect the community against a recurrence of spreading the disease,” but Mallon was freed early the following year by the city’s new health commissioner. He agreed on the condition that she stop cooking.”

“Without other skills and unconvinced that her condition was a danger, Mallon drifted back to her old job around New York and New Jersey. She prepared meals for a hotel, a Broadway restaurant, a spa, and a boarding house. When, in 1915, a typhoid outbreak sickened 25 people at Sloane Maternity Hospital, George Soper was again called to investigate. The cook, “Mrs. Brown,” was discovered to be Mallon.”


A life in exile

“Mallon was sent back to North Brother island—permanently. She spent her days reading and working in the laboratory preparing medical tests. She died there of a stroke in 1938, after a quarter-century of quarantine. She never admitted to being a carrier of typhoid, and perhaps without the education to understand it, actually never believed it. Nine people attended her funeral at St. Luke’s in the Bronx.”

“The legacy of “Typhoid Mary” as an asymptomatic vessel for disease led to the theory of “superspreaders” that has surfaced in disease outbreaks ever since.”