What New York did about Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon was born in Irelend in 1869 and came to America at 16, working as a cook for wealthy families in Boston and New York. In the early 1900s, several family members came down with typhoid—a potentially deadly bacterial infection spread through food when a carrier doesn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom.

Eventually a New York City typhoid researcher identified Mary as the source of all the infections. She denied having typhoid, but tests proved otherwise, and city health officials forced her into quarantine in a city hospital at North Brother Island in the East River.

A New York newspaper illustrates her plight in 1909. 

After leaving quarantine and promising not to handle food, she went back to work as a cook, promptly infecting more people. Eventually she was brought back to the island, where she lived out her life. Mary died in 1938, a celebrity for being a healthy carrier of a lethal bacteria.

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3 Responses to “What New York did about Typhoid Mary”

  1. ANTONIA Says:


  2. North Brother Island’s tragic past « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] Brother’s most famous resident? Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary. The Irish immigrant cook, a carrier of typhus, was committed there in 1908 and died 30 years […]

  3. stephen lambert Says:

    From what I read of Dr. Sopher who originally identified Mary Mallon as a carrier, he didn’t have good communication skills, so I wasn’t surprised to read Mary chased him out of her kitchen with a carving fork. The Irish at that time were often viewed as dirty, ignorant, lazy, not to mention other cruel things, so Mary probably took Dr. Sopher’s approach as an insult. Possibly if a Dr. of Irish descent had approached Mary things would have been different.

    During Mary’s first stay at North Brother island I don’t know if any effort to teach Mary about better hygene and sanitation were ever taught to her, and again if medical staff of Irish descent had approached her with these concerns, she might have been more receptive. Cooking was not just a job, but a craft for Mary that she enjoyed, and sadly the powers that be who released Mary did not consider that she would need to be retrained for work that would have supported her properly. No education in proper hygene, not accepting she was a carrier of typhoid, anger over how she was treated, taken forcibly from her place of work and incarcerated at North Brother island, gave her no logical reason why she could not be a cook again. I found it comforting that when she was brought back to the island she eventually was trained as a lab technician and accepted her situation even getting to take outings off the island.

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