Mary Mallon (September 23rd, 1869 - November 11th, 1938) otherwise known by her unfortunate nickname, Typhoid Mary, was an Irish-American woman who became the first person in United States history to ever be classified as an asymptomatic carrier of the illness known only as typhoid fever. She is believed to have infected 51 American citizens during her role as a cook, and it is believed that three people died because of her. She was arrested by the public health officials two times, and she ultimately died in solitude.
Mary Mallon was born in 1869 in Cookstown, County Tyrone, Ireland, and emigrated to the United States in 1884.
Mallon worked as a cook between the years of 1900 and 1907. She moved to Mamaronek, NY, and in just a few weeks, several of the residents developed the dreaded typhoid fever. Mallon then moved to Manhattan, and she unintentionally spreaded the illness to those she was working for. The laundress was the only casualty. Mallon later set her eyes on a lawyer, and she began to work for him. Unfortunately for him, Mary had unwittingly passed the typhoid fever to his relatives, and seven out of eight of the household members developed typhoid. Basically to wrap this up, Mary was hired by several more people, and she continued to spread the illness everywhere that she went.
Researching Mary Mallon
In 1906, a family hired the famous thyroid researcher, George Soper, to investigate the young woman. Soper concluded that Mary was the reason for the recent outbreaks of the thyroid fever. In his investigation of her, he had noticed a pattern between her and the victims. In this pattern, the victim would normally hire a forty year old Irish-American woman to cook for them, and then said woman would leave without leaving a forwarding address. When he confronted Mary on her possibly being connected to the recent strings of typhoid fever outbreaks, she whole-heartedly refused to cooperate with the reseacher, and she later proceeded to lock herself in the bathroom and stayed there until he left.
Mallon was eventually taken into custody by the police in 1907. During an interview with the young woman regarding her role as a cook in several people's houses, Mallon admitted to not washing her hands while preparing meals for her masters, and stated that she didn't understand why she had to. The officials eventually managed to get a hold of Mary's urine and stool samples, and it was eventually revealed that her gallbladder was infested with thyroid salmonella. She stubbornly refused to have her infected gallbladder removed, and she also refused to give up her job as a cook, because she was still in denial about how she was carrying a disease.
Eventually, the New York City Health Inspector concluded that she was, in fact, a carrier for the typhoid fever. She was eventually taken to be quarantined at the North Brother Island. She remained isolated for three years.
Later on, Eugene H. Porter, the Commissioner of Health of the State of New York, decided that isolating infected people from society was morally wrong. In a compromise between him and the young woman, Porter agreed to release the young woman from the clinic under one condition. The condition stated that she should never work as a cook again, and that she would practice more hygienic ethics. Mallon agreed to this compromise, and she was soon released from the clinic.
Mallon later took the job as a laundress, and eventually went back to her role as a cook, because she received less payment from her new job as a laundress. She also made herself a new name for herself, and changed jobs frequently.
A serious case of typhoid fever arose in the Solane Hospital for Women in 1915. Only two people died. City health officials discovered that an Irish-American woman matching Mallon's description mysteriously disappeared from the kitchen at the time of the epidemic, and they eventually tracked her down to an estate in Long Island. She was arrested on March 27th, 1915; and she was returned to the North Brother Island, and remained there for the rest of her life.
Six years prior to her death, Mary was paralyzed by a stroke. On November 11th, 1938; she died of pneumonia at the age of 70. An investigation of Mallon's body revealed that she had live thyphoid bacteria in her gallbladder, and her body was eventually cremated. Her ashes were then scattered in the Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.
A Chilling Legacy
There isn't an exact percentage of people that were infected by Mallon. What is known, however, is that three deaths were attributed to her, with estimates reaching to the high fifties.
Today, the term "Typhoid Mary" is used whenever someone knowingly, or unknowingly, spreads anything that is considered to be undesirable.