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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Typhoid Mary!

This blog post originally appeared 3/28/2008.

I was browsing charming little reference book called Final Placement: A Guide to the Deaths, Funerals, and Burials of Notable Americans and came across this entry about Typhoid Mary. Maybe I wasn't paying attention in school, but I don't think I knew that Typhoid Mary was a real person, especially a real person...named Mary...who had typhoid.

Here's the entry:
Mary Mallon, nicknamed "Typhoid Mary," was born, probably in the United States, in or around 1870.

In a 1904 typhoid epidemic, she was recognized as the carrier of the bacteria. By the time the disease was traced to her, she had already left the house where she had worked as a cook. She continued to moving from household to household but was eventually found and institutionalized at Riverside Hospital. ... She was finally released when she promised that she would find other employment besides cooking.

During a later epideemic in 1914, she was again found to be working as a cook, and was again detained. Although she herself was immune to the disease, her system was so full of typhoid bacteria that some doctors referred to her as "the human culture tube."

She died of a stroke on November 11, 1938, aged 68. A requiem mass was held for her at St. Luke's Roman Catholic Church in the Bronx, on the morning of November 12, and was attended by three men, three women, and three children, all of whom refused to be identified.
Here are some of the headlines regarding ole Typhoid Mary from the New York Times:

"TYPHOID MARY" MUST STAY.; Court Rejects Her Plea to Quit Riverside Hospital. July 17, 1909

"TYPHOID MARY" FREED.; Lederle Thinks She's Learned to Keep Her Germs to Herself. February 21, 1910

'TYPHOID MARY' ASKS $50,000 FROM CITY; Not a Germ Carrier and Never Had a Contagious Disease, She Says. HER LAWYER TO FILE SUIT Her Standing as a Cook Has Been Injured by Her Three Years' Imprisonment as a Public Danger. December 3, 1911

HOSPITAL EPIDEMIC FROM TYPHOID MARY; Germ Carrier, Cooking Under False Name, Spread Disease in Sloane Institution. CAUGHT HIDING IN QUEENS Blamed for Twenty-five Cases of Fever Among Doctors and Nurses -- Now In Quarantine. March 28, 1915

"TYPHOID MARY" HAS REAPPEARED; Human Culture Tube, Herself Immune, Spreads the Disease Wherever She Goes. April 4, 1915

TYPHOID MARY BURIED; Nine Persons Attend Mass for Her at Church in the Bronx. November 13, 1938

I feel sort of bad for Mary. She ended up having to live at Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island for the rest of her life. I'm not sure what the 1915-era alternative would've been (except maybe, uh, checking in with the Department of Health and NOT WORKING AS A COOK IN A HOSPITAL), but still.


Dickerson, Robert B., Jr. Final Placement: A Guide to the Deaths, Funerals, and Burials of Notable Americans. Reference Publications, 1982.

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