Who was Typhoid Mary?

Typhoid Mary vs. New York City

Realizing that Mary wasn't going to give up easily, Soper went to New York's Departmen­t of Health with his evidence and quickly convinced officials to dispatch an inspector, an ambulance and a few policemen to bring her in. Again, she slipped through their fingers and fled through the house after she answered the door. After a three-hour search, they finally found her. As they dragged her away, as she fought tooth and nail -- a female inspector even had to sit on her for the trip over to the hospital [source: Gordon].

After testing her, it was confirmed that Mary did carry the parasite. The Department of Health offered her a deal: If she promised to give up cooking, they'd let her go. Mary obstinately refused to promise anything. So to protect the public, she was sent to North Brother Island to be quarantined in 1907.

In the meantime, the press latched on to the story and dubbed her "Typhoid Mary." While some people were outraged at what they perceived as a violation of Mary's civil liberties, the newspapers mostly painted her as a menace to society. One illustration depicted her breaking egg-sized skulls into a skillet.

After three years of detention, a new health commissioner came into office and released Mary under the condition that she never work again as a cook. A few years later, the Department of Health brought in Dr. Soper to investigate another typhoid outbreak, this time at New York City's Sloan Hospital. Soper discovered Mary herself among the kitchen staff there. Authorities took her back to the quarantine island, this time without a fight. She remained on the island until her death, 26 years later.

History isn't kind to Mary Mallon. One could argue that Mary heartlessly pursued her culinary career despite the knowledge that she was unleashing typhoid fever on others. However, some point out that the matter was more complicated. That she didn't show symptoms suggests that she might not have believed what the experts were telling her about her dissemination of the disease. It's hard to believe that she didn't see a connection in the outbreaks that followed her around. To this day, historians struggle to sketch her true character and motivations.

R­el­ated Articles

More Great Links


  • ­Gordo­n, John Steele. "The passion of Typhoid Mary." American Heritage. May/June 1994, Vol. 45, Issue 3.
  • Leavitt, Judith Walzer. "Tyhpoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health." Beacon Press, 1997. (Feb. 5, 2009) http://books.google.com/books?id=Fow5cxqJxukC
  • NOVA. "Transcripts: The Most Dangerous Woman in America." PBS. Oct. 12, 2004. (Feb. 7, 2009) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/3115_typhoid.html
  • Williams, Geoff. "Recipe for disaster: How Mary Mallon became Typhoid Mary." Biography; Dec. 1997 Vol. 1, Issue 12.