Mary Mallon was born in 1869 in Cookstown, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland. She emigrated to the United States at the age of 15, a common choice for women like her in the late-1800s. After living with her aunt and uncle for a time, she eventually settled into her career as a cook for wealthier families. Over the course of seven years, Mallon worked as a cook for eight affluent families in the New York City area. This was a good job for someone in her position as it would have paid far more than, say, being a maid or laundry worker. Mallon never showed any signs or symptoms of illness, but over the years of her employment, seven families she worked for contracted typhoid fever. A deadly pattern formed. Mallon would move into a new household, and within a few weeks of her arrival, people would be seriously ill with typhoid fever.
1906: multiple ill people with typhoid in a house in Long Island. Long island public health could not identify the cause of the outbreak so the homeowner hired George Soper of New York's health department. Mary Mallon had just started working as a cook for the family 3 weeks prior to the outbreak. Soper looked at the files regarding outbreaks and noticed that Mary Mallon worked at each of the houses and the outbreaks started shortly after her arrival. She refused to wash her hands while cooking because she "didn't see the point".
Soper went to the house to tell Mallon about his findings and offered her free medical care and asked for samples for testing. She chased him out of the house with a rolling pin. Soper sent a medical team to the house and she fled. Police searched for her for 3 hours. At this point she had infected 22 people and one little girl had died from the infection. Soper offered to release her if she had her gallbladder out or stopped working as a cook. She refused both and was labelled a "menace to society". She was banished to Riverside Hospital for Communicable Diseases on north brother island to live in solitude. She was there for 3 years and was ultimately released by a new health comissioner after many failed legal attempts.
She eluded authorities for 5 years and continued to cook. She was found cooking at Sloan Maternity Hospital in New York where 25 new cases of typhoid fever had been reported. She was sent back to North Brother Island where she spent the rest of her life. She died on 11/11/1938 after 26 years of forced isolation. She infected 51 people, 3 of whom who died.
By the time she died New York health officials had identified more than 400 other healthy carriers but no one else was forcibly confined.
- Journal Article: The Sad and Tragic Life of Typhoid Mary
- Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Mallon
- The Story of Typhoid Mary is Way Sadder Than You Think
- PBS (NOVA) Documentary on YouTube: Typhoid Mary: The Most Dangerous Woman
(aka Dr. Provolone)