Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon (September 23rd , 1869 – November 11th , 1938), also known as Typhoid Mary, is the woman who infected 51 people, three of whom died, with typhoid fever.

She was also the first person in the United States identified as an asymptomatic carrier of the disease. Since she continued to work as a cook and expose others to the disease, she was forcibly isolated by authorities (twice) and spent nearly three decades in isolation.

In late 1906, one family hired a typhoid researcher named George Soper to investigate. Soper published the results on June 15th, 1907, in the Journal of the American Medical Association. He believed Mallon might have been the source of the outbreak. He wrote:

It was found that the family changed cooks on august 4th. This was about three weeks before the typhoid epidemic broke out. The new cook, Mallon, remained in the family only a short time and left about three weeks after the outbreak occurred. Mallon was described as an Irish woman about 40 years of age, tall, heavy, single. She seemed to be in perfect health.

Soper discovered that a female Irish cook, who fit the physical description he was given, was involved in all of the outbreaks. He was unable to locate her because she generally left after an outbreak began, without giving a forwarding address. Soper learned of an active outbreak in a penthouse on Park Avenue and discovered Mallon was the cook. Two of the household’s servants were hospitalized, and the daughter of the family died of typhoid.

This is the house where Mary Mallon was quarantined from 1907 to 1910, and again from 1915 until her death in 1938.

When Soper spoke to Mallon about her possible role in spreading typhoid, she adamantly rejected his request for urine and stool samples. Since Mallon refused to give samples, he decided to compile a five-year history of her employment. Soper found that of the eight families that hired Mallon as a cook, members of seven said they had contracted typhoid fever. On his next visit, he took another doctor with him but again was turned away. During a later meeting, when Mallon was hospitalized, he told her he would write a book and give her all the royalties. She angrily rejected his proposal and locked herself in the bathroom until he left.

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