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Mary Mallon (Typhoid Mary)

Updated on March 31, 2012



Ever hear something and wonder were did they come up with that or is it real.  Over the years occasionally I would hear Typhoid Mary.  I know Typhoid is real but what about Mary?  As I was channel flipping the other day there on the History Channel they were talking about “Typhoid Mary”.  I was not able to watch all of it so set down to do some research and see what I could find out.  Here I will lay down what I found out about Mary and give some insight into the women that was given the label “Typhoid Mary”.

First a little background on Typhoid Fever and the problems from the sickness that were faced in the early 1900’s.  Typhoid Fever is a bacterial infection most commonly caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhoid, and is spread by contaminated food, drink, or water.  Some people become carries and never show symptoms.  This is where Mary comes into the picture in 1900.

Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary.

Mary Mallon was born in Ireland in the year 1869 and immigrated to the US in 1884. Mary came to New York where she would be a cook and in two weeks time residents in the house she cooked for came down with typhoid. In 1901 she moved to Manhattan where she worked for a family who got sick and one death resulted in her contact with them. The cycle continued with her at one time caring for those she got sick which made matters worse. By 1906 she had changed jobs a number of times and each time people got sick. The way she spread it is that she wasn’t a very hygienic person since it is spread my feces and urine of the carrier. It takes vigorous scrubbing with soap and hot water to remove the bacteria from the hands. So with Mary handling food for these people she would infect them and they in turn got sick.

Mary was approached by a researcher who informed her she was probably a carrier for typhoid. This was in the year 1907 and the researcher George Soper was baffled at her lack of cooperation. Mary refused to give urine or stool samples to rule her out a healthy carrier of typhoid. Mary again was confronted by Soper who had with him at the time a doctor, but Mary refused to cooperate. She stated that she had been tested and was negative but she could have been in remission at the time of testing. At this time it was not common thought that someone could be healthy but harboring an infection or disease that could be spread to others. So what Soper was suggesting to Mary Mallon was unusual. Then throw in that Mary was Irish and at this time the Irish were ill treated. This may have been some cause for Mary not to like Soper if he was tactless in his approach towards her.

After failed attempts Dr Sara Baker went to talk with Mary and got nowhere and soon after the police showed up. Mary was taken into custody and found to be a carrier. She was subsequently put into isolation for 3 years on North Brother Island. Mary could be freed from quarantine if she agreed to no longer work as a cook and take steps to prevent transmitting typhoid to others. Mary wanted her freedom and wanted off North Brother Island so she agreed to the terms. Unfortunately Mary ended up a laundress which pays very low and she soon went by another name to gain employment as a cook. Of all places for her to work she ended up in a hospital where she infected 25 people one of which resulted in death. The authorities soon caught up with Mary Mallon and she ended up back on North Brother Island for the rest of her life.

Mary Mallon died at age 69 on November 11, 1938 from complication caused by pneumonia. Her autopsy revealed the presence of live typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder.


North Brother Island
North Brother Island
North Brother Island as she is today.
North Brother Island as she is today.

North Brother Island

Mary Mallon spent the rest of her life on North Brother Island. What and where is this place? North Brother Island is in the East River lying southwest of Hunts Point between Rikers Island and the Bronx. Riverside Hospital resides on the island and in 1962 the city ceased using the facility. The island is 13 acres and today when looking at it from a distance looks to be just greenery. Hidden among the trees are the hospital, doctor’s houses, and other buildings used when the hospital was up and running. The island was used to house victims and carriers of contagious illnesses starting in 1886 with the onset of Smallpox. Now what remains is deteriorating and is off limits to the public.

South Brother Island is the not so famous other island in the East River. This island is 7 acres and was privately owned until just recently. One time owner of the New York Yankees Jacob Ruppert had a summer home on the island. The home burned down in 1909 and no one has lived on the island since. The island changed ownership a few times and was bought by the city in 2007 and is a wildlife sanctuary.


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    • mkott profile image

      Michele 7 years ago from Reno, Nevada

      Brutal bunch! I think living out her life on a island with people carrying infectious disease's was very appropriate for a woman who spread disease.

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      Steve Pazdro 7 years ago

      I think they should have buried her in soil up to her neck and allowed all of the people she infected to inflict whichever injury they felt was appropriate upon her... this would probably become most unpleasant for Mary when the offended Dr. Sara Baker decided to defocate on Mary's face :(

    • profile image

      Kelly McCoy 7 years ago

      I think we should apply for a work clearance to have her ground up into kielbasa and then fed her to the loins.

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      Bob kaires 7 years ago

      I think they should have put her in the Coliseum with Very Hungry Lions that were starved for 2 weeks and let them Eat Her Voraciously. However I would feel bad for the Pretty Lions because they would no doubt contract "Typhoid" from her Gall Bladder.

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      tori 7 years ago

      i think she deserved to get locked up to bad for her that she wouldn't work in laundry even though she knew she was killing people

    • AEvans profile image

      Julianna 8 years ago from SomeWhere Out There

      I never knew the true story about typhoid Mary, how sad that she had to end up living on an Island just because she chose to work in a field that she enjoyed and also posed serious threats to, I am glad that you gave me knowledge and history about her. Thank you. :)