Mary Mallon: Wikis


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"Typhoid Mary" redirects here. For the fictional character, see Typhoid Mary (comics).
Mary Mallon

Mary Mallon in a 1909 newspaper illustration
Born September 23, 1869
County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Died November 11, 1938 (aged 69)
Nationality United States
Known for Healthy carrier of typhoid fever

Mary Mallon (September 23, 1869 – November 11, 1938), also known as Typhoid Mary, was the first person in the United States to be identified as a healthy carrier of typhoid fever. Over the course of her career as a cook, she is known to have infected 53 people, three of whom died from the disease. Her notoriety is in part due to her vehement denial of her own role in spreading the disease, together with her refusal to cease working as a cook. She was forcibly quarantined twice by public health authorities and died in quarantine. It is possible that she was born with the disease, as her mother had typhoid fever during her pregnancy.



Mallon was born in 1869 in County Tyrone, Ireland (now Northern Ireland), and emigrated to the United States in 1884. She worked as a cook in the New York City area from 1900 to 1907. She had been working in a house in Mamaroneck, New York, for less than two weeks when the residents came down with typhoid. She moved to Manhattan in 1901, and members of the family for whom she worked developed fevers and diarrhea and the laundress died. She then went to work for a lawyer until seven of the eight household members developed typhoid; Mary spent months helping to care for the people she made sick, but her care further spread the disease through the household. In 1906, she took a position in Long Island; within two weeks, six out of eleven family members were hospitalized with typhoid. She changed employment again and three more households were infected.

People can catch typhoid fever after ingesting food or water that has been contaminated during handling by a human carrier. The human carrier is usually a healthy person who has survived a previous episode of typhoid fever but in whom the typhoid bacteria have been able to survive without causing further symptoms. Carriers continue to excrete the bacteria in their feces and urine. It takes vigorous scrubbing and thorough disinfection with soap and hot water to remove the bacteria from the hands.

When typhoid researcher George Soper approached Mallon with the news she was possibly spreading typhoid, she adamantly rejected his request for urine and stool samples to ascertain whether she was a typhoid carrier. Soper left and later published his findings in the June 15, 1907, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.[1] On his next contact with her, he brought a doctor with him, but was turned away again. Mallon's denials that she was a carrier were based in part on the diagnosis of a reputable chemist who had found she was not harboring the bacteria. It is possible she was in temporary remission when tested. Moreover, when Soper first told her she was a carrier, the concept that a person could spread disease and remain healthy was not well known. What is more, Soper may have been somewhat tactless with her; class prejudice and prejudice towards the Irish were very strong, as was a lingering belief that dirty, slum-dwelling immigrants were a major cause of epidemics. During a later encounter in the hospital, he told Mary that he would write a book about her and give her all the royalties; she angrily rejected his proposal and locked herself in the lavatory until he left.


Mary Mallon (foreground) in a hospital bed during her first quarantine

The New York City Health Department sent Dr. Sara Josephine Baker to talk to Mary, but "by that time she was convinced that the law was wantonly persecuting her when she had done nothing wrong."[2] A few days later, Baker arrived at Mary's place of work with several police officers and took her into custody. The New York City health inspector investigated and found her to be a carrier. Under powers granted by sections 1169 and 1170 of the Greater New York Charter, Mallon was held in isolation for three years at a hospital located on North Brother Island. Eventually, a new health commissioner decided that Mallon could be freed from quarantine if she agreed to no longer work as a cook and to take reasonable steps to prevent transmitting typhoid to others. Eager to regain her freedom, Mallon accepted these terms. On February 19, 1910, Mallon agreed that she "[was] prepared to change her occupation (that of cook), and w[ould] give assurance by affidavit that she w[ould] upon her release take such hygienic precautions as w[ould] protect those with whom she c[ame] in contact, from infection". She therefore was released from quarantine and returned to the mainland.

However, she had been given a job as a laundress, which paid lower wages than her previous occupation as a cook. Mallon concealed her true identity by adopting the pseudonym Mary Brown, returned to her previous occupation of cook, and in 1915 infected 25 people while working as one at New York's Sloane Hospital for Women; one of those infected died. Public-health authorities again tracked down and arrested Mary Mallon, returning her to quarantine on the island. Mallon was confined there for the rest of her life. She became something of a minor celebrity, and was interviewed by journalists, who were forbidden to accept as much as a glass of water from her. Later in life, she was allowed to work as a technician in the island's laboratory.


Mallon spent the rest of her life in quarantine. Six years before her death, she was paralyzed by a stroke. On November 11, 1938, aged 69, she died of pneumonia.[3][2] She was still infectious on the day of her death: an autopsy found evidence of live typhoid bacteria in her gallbladder. Her body was cremated; the ashes were buried at Saint Raymond's Cemetery in the Bronx.


A poster warning against acting "like the Typhoid Mary".

Mallon's status as the first healthy typhoid carrier to be identified by medical science meant there was no pre-existing policy providing guidelines for handling the situation. Many of the problems surrounding her case stemmed from Mallon's own vehement denial that she was infected with typhoid. She refused to acknowledge any connection between her working as a cook and others' falling seriously ill, despite this scenario's repeated occurrence. Though presented with medical evidence of her infection, Mallon maintained that she was perfectly healthy, had never had typhoid fever, and therefore could not possibly be the culprit. Given Mallon's refusal to heed doctors' warnings that she was a typhoid carrier, her continual pursuit of employment in kitchens, the misery inflicted on her many victims, and her failure to comply with the conditions of her initial release from quarantine, public-health authorities determined that permanent quarantine was the only way to prevent Mallon from causing significant future typhoid outbreaks.

Other healthy typhoid carriers identified around the first quarter of the 20th century include Tony Labella, an Italian immigrant who caused more than 100 infections and five deaths; an Adirondack guide dubbed Typhoid John, who infected 36 people, causing two deaths; and Alphonse Cotils, a restaurant- and bakery-owner.[4]

Today, Typhoid Mary is a generic term for a healthy carrier of a dangerous disease. It also describes a person who spreads malicious computer software through a combination of naïveté and refusal to use protective software to stop the computer from spreading such malware.[5]


  1. ^ Soper, George A. (1907-06-15). "The work of a chronic typhoid germ distributor". Journal of the American Medical Association 48: 2019–2022. 
  2. ^ a b Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Typhoid Mary". Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  3. ^ "'Typhoid Mary' Dies Of A Stroke At 68. Carrier of Disease, Blamed for 51 Cases and 3 Deaths, but She Was Held Immune". New York Times. November 12, 1938. Retrieved 2010-02-28. "Mary Mallon, the first carrier of typhoid bacilli identified in America and consequently known as Typhoid Mary, died yesterday in Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island." 
  4. ^ 20/Feb/2007 "The Board of Health’s Exile of Mary Mallon: Was it Justifiable?"
  5. ^ "Typhoid Mary" definition on "Flame Warriors".

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