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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

i'll just leave this here

The Poor Woman Who Will Forever Be Known As Typhoid Mary

Typhoid Mary (no, not the Marvel Comics villain), was a real woman blamed for spreading typhoid fever in the 1900s. And you thought you had it bad when you gave your roommate a cold during midterms. Read on for her story. (Warning: It’s not cheery) 

Atlas Obscura delves into the case of Typhoid Mary, aka Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant who cooked for wealthy New York families. She came to NY as a teen in the 1880s but by 1906 she found herself in deep trouble. “She spent the summer working for the Warren family while they vacationed in Oyster Bay, Long Island. Shortly after she left, three family members, two maids, and a gardener all came down with typhoid fever,” writes Atlas Obscura. “The owner of the property hired George Soper, a sanitation engineer, to find the root cause. Soper hypothesized that it was Mallon, after learning that all of the families she had worked for had had outbreaks at some point.”

Ok, a fair enough assumption, something which could have easily been dismissed had Mallon cooperated. She didn’t, likely because she was scared as hell. “[Soper] asked to test her stool and urine but she refused, as she felt perfectly healthy (asymptomatic carriers were unheard of at the time). Soper continued to plead with her, even offering to pay her royalties from a book he wanted to write about her. Mallon just wanted to be left alone and told him that she had been tested privately and the results were normal.” But Soper felt strongly enough to get the police and health department involved who made Mallon get tested and guess what? They found typhoid bacteria.

Mallon ran but was eventually apprehended and put in a quarantine facility in the Bronx. And there she was held for three years, one of history’s only imprisoned typhoid carriers. While Mallon was the first proof that a person could be a typhoid carrier and not show symptoms, after her indefinite imprisonment… well, nobody else got locked up. Mallon was made into a terrifying figure, while many other carriers walked free.

She was released in 1910 after promising them she would no longer work as a cook but held true to the belief there was nothing wrong with her. “She worked as a maid for a time, but as the pay was not lucrative, she felt obligated to return to cooking. In 1915, 25 people at the Sloane Hospital for Women came down with the disease,” they write. “The health department found her working there under the alias ‘Mary Brown’ and immediately sent her back to her island prison. There was no chance of her ever being freed again and on November 11, 1938, she succumbed to pneumonia, dying on the floor alone in her room.”

And that, dear readers, is the sad tale of Typhoid Mary Mallon.

(via Neatorama)


  • Charlotte Van Zee

    You forgot about Dr Sarah Baker, the woman who was the head of NYC Public Health at the time!  She’s the one who tracked down Mallon both times and had her sent back to prison. I always thought a movie about these two would be fascinating. 

  • Terence Ng

    Mallon also became well known, being interviewed by journalists, though probably not for any reason anyone might want to be made famous for. She later suffered a paralytic stroke and worked on the island as a lab tech before her death.

  • Kaarel Jakobson

    No, I’m not exactly inclined to feel sympathy for her and her criminal negligence.

  • Lauren

    I would love a movie about Dr. Baker. She did an incredible amount to promote public health for primarily poor women in New York, and aside from geeks like me who voluntarily research that sort of thing, any time I mention her the response I get is, “Who?”

    I’d be perfectly fine with something quasi-steampunk and in the vein of “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage,” with Dr. Baker as Batman or something. (Or, you know, just an actual fact-based movie about the two. But medical superheroism! Think of the possibilities!)

  • Leilani M

    You are exactly right.  While no one else may have gone to prison for spreading typhoid intentionally, there are many cases of people who have been tried for knowingly spreading other diseases, as some degree of attempted homicide, reckless endangerment or other charges.  Wasn’t there a case about a European pop singer a while back that was in court for knowingly spreading HIV without warning her partners?

  • Charlotte Van Zee

    YESSSSSSS!  Even just a medical mystery thriller — trying to put together how all these people are getting sick — a chase scene in the streets of New York —

  • Anonymous

    Typhoid Mary is a Marvel Villain?…. What?

  • Kaarel Jakobson

  • Anonymous

    A chase scene? In those voluminous dresses they used to wear?  Won’t exactly be the French Connection…

  • Anonymous

    The always wonderful Radiolab did a great segment on Mary:

  • Ms Avery

    Yeah, she was pretty irresponsible.

  • My name is not what you think

    Im related to her