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'Typhoid Mary' - Mary Mallon (1869-1938)

Typhoid Mary was Mary Mallon, a healthy carrier of the disease who infected a number of people - at least three of whom died - in New York City. Once identified as the source of these outbreaks she eventually became demonised in the eyes of the public. Her nickname remains an all-purpose pejorative term for individuals - real or imagined - who wilfully spread disease.

Born in County Tyrone, Ireland, Mary emigrated to New York in her teens where, working as a household cook, she left a trail of illness wherever she was employed. After being first identified as a carrier in 1907, she was quarantined to the Riverside Hospital on New York’s North Brother Island. She was released three years later on condition that she never worked as a cook again.

Mary reneged on this deal and was found working under the name of Mary Brown in the kitchens of a New York hospital. A recent typhoid outbreak at the same hospital had claimed two lives and so any residual sympathy for her plight turned to anger - not helped by Mary’s insistence that she was not a carrier. To the public she was the carrier. This time she was exiled to the island permanently. Mary finally left the island in 1938 - in a coffin. She had died of pneumonia at the age of 69 and was buried across the water in the Bronx borough of New York. The Riverside Hospital closed shortly afterwards.

Fifty years after the death of the real Typhoid Mary, a troubled character with the same name 'who poisoned all she touched' made her first appearance in Marvel’s Daredevil comic-book series.

 

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Bibliography

A Bourdain, Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001)

A M Hasian, 'Power, medical knowledge, and the rhetorical invention of "Typhoid Mary"' Journal of Medical Humanities, 21/3 (2000), pp 123-139

J W Leavitt, Typhoid Mary: captive to the public's health (Boston: Beacon Press, Aug 1996)

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