Poor Mary Mallon! No one remembers that name. To the world, she is known as “Typhoid Mary.”
Mary’s troubles began in 1906 when a New York banker hired her to cook for his family at their rented Long Island summer home. Before the summer was over, six of the 11 persons in the house were suffering from typhoid fever.
The owners hired a civil engineer to find the cause of the outbreak. His investigation led him to suspect the cook. By researching her work history, he found typhoid outbreaks following her–seven in 10 years.
He tracked her down, demanding that she submit to medical tests. She reacted violently–and then disappeared. Eventually, she was found and forced to have the tests, which were positive for the typhoid bacillus. No one explained to Mary exactly how she could carry and spread typhoid fever when she wasn’t ill herself, and she refused to believe that she was a danger to others.
She was quarantined on North Brother Island, and in 1909 she sued the health department. She lost. A year later, a new health commissioner agreed to release her as long as she never again worked as a cook.
Mary agreed, but other jobs did not pay as well as cooking, and because she did not believe she was the cause of the outbreaks, she returned to cooking–although under an assumed name. In 1915, 25 persons associated with the Sloane Maternity Hospital in Manhattan became ill with typhoid, two of them dying. It didn’t take long to determine that the hospital’s cook, Mary Brown, was really Mary Mallon. Newspaper headlines branded her a “twentieth century witch.”
She returned to North Brother Island, where she spent the remaining 23 years of her life. Her obituary called her the nation’s “most famous medical prisoner.”