Human Disasters Typhoid Mary Mallon Part 2

About the famous disease carrying Typhoid Mary Mallon, history and account of her in New York City.



A few years earlier, a number of German bacteriologists had found that "intestinal carriers" such as Mary were prolonged spreaders of the disease. Untreated, the typhoid organism is capable of surviving indefinitely in a carrier's intestines. Typhoid germs also settle in the gallbladder, and it was suggested that removal of this organ might cure her. Mary Mallon was a stubborn woman. Since she felt perfectly well, she refused any form of treatment. Finally she was transferred to a hospital on North Brother Island and given an ultimatum. Either she would submit to treatment or she would spend the rest of her life in the hospital. Mary promptly hired a lawyer and for the next few years engaged in court battles that failed to bring about a solution. Tired of the prolonged hassle, and determined to put an end to the case, the city health officials agreed that Mary could have her freedom if she gave up cooking or handling any foods. She also promised that she would report to the Health Dept. every 90 days.

It was 1910 when Mary Mallon gained her release. By then various newspapers had picked up the story, and she had been labeled "Typhoid Mary." Reporters sought interviews, but she refused to see anyone. She wouldn't allow herself to be photographed, and she cut herself off from all her friends. Taking a new identity, she disappeared once again. For five years she evaded the health authorities. She also broke her promise and continued to work in the kitchens of clubs, hotels, restaurants, and private homes.

A final confrontation came in 1915, when the Sloane Hospital for Women reported an outbreak of typhoid. Twenty-five nurses and attendants were ill, and two employees had died. When Dr. Soper was called in, he discovered that the elusive Mary Mallon had been employed in the hospital kitchen. Police were put on her trail. She was found working in a suburban home, was arrested, and then was returned to North Brother Island.

During the subsequent years of her confinement, she continued to refuse treatment. Physicians called her "the human culture tube" because her system was so heavily infested with typhoid bacteria. Fifty-one original cases and three deaths were attributed to her, though she herself was immune to the disease. In her later years she became a lab technician at the hospital and, though restricted to its grounds, appeared to have "settled in."

On Nov. 11, 1938, Mary Mallon died of a paralytic stroke at Riverside Hospital, North Brother Island, New York. She was 70 years old. Nine persons, who would not identify themselves, attended the Mass held for her at St. Luke's Catholic Church. She is buried in St. Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx. No one recognizes the name Mary Mallon today, but "Typhoid Mary" is known to almost everyone.

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