This week, we’re covering the strange, sad case of Mary Mallon, one of America’s most notorious killers—who never technically committed a crime. When is it illegal to spread a disease? Why did the Health Department have the power to detain people indefinitely? Does Mary deserve her infamy, or was she a victim of a system that was stacked against her from the start?
Content notes: This is mostly about an epidemic of typhoid fever, but it will also touch on other disease outbreaks and US laws around quarantining people and charging people for spreading diseases. We’ll be discussing the COVID-19 pandemic at the end of this episode. The death of a child is mentioned.
Featured Image: Mary Mallon in a hospital. This image was published in 1909 and is the most famous photograph of Mary. (Image source)
A cartoon of Mary published June 20, 1909. (Image source)
A food safety poster using Mary as an example in food safety. (Image source)
Dr. Sara Josephine Baker in her typical attire. (Image source)
A medical illustration of the symptoms of typhoid fever. (Image source)
A photograph of the abandoned quarantine hospital on North Brother Island. (Image source)
About Mary Mallon and the other people in this story
(Note: Quite a few sources refer to George Soper as “George Sober.” I don’t know if he went by both names or if some early misprint got reproduced, but I went with Soper since that seems to be the name he used for his later work.)
- Mary Mallon (1869-1938) and the history of typhoid fever
- Who Was Typhoid Mary?
- Sara Josephine Baker (1873–1945)
- Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health
- NOVA: The Most Dangerous Woman in America
- See the Abandoned and Inaccessible Island Where Typhoid Mary Died
- The Dread Disease
About typhoid and other diseases
- Typhoid Fever – CDC Travelers’ Health page
- Typhoid Fever factsheet – District of Columbia Department of Health
- Scientists get a handle on what made Typhoid Mary’s infectious microbes tick
- Typhoid fever and paratyphoid fever: Systematic review to estimate global morbidity and mortality for 2010
- JOHN SNOW, THE BROAD STREET PUMP, THE GHOST MAP, AND CHOLERA
- A Brief History of Shigella.
- THE DETERMINATION OF ICE CREAM AS A FACTOR IN THE SPREAD OF TYPHOID FEVER INFECTION
- A TYPHOID FEVER EPIDEMIC FROM INFECTED MILK.
- The Dangers of Raw Milk: Unpasteurized Milk Can Pose a Serious Health Risk
About later American laws regarding the criminalizing the spreading of disease
- Texas jury concludes saliva of HIV-positive man a ‘deadly weapon’, sentenced to 35 yrs jail
- Laws That Criminalize Spread Of Infectious Diseases Can Increase Their Stigma
- HIV Criminalization in the United States
A few of the many op-eds and articles about Typhoid Mary in the last few weeks
- GUEST EDITORIAL: Today’s Typhoid Marys
- Typhoid Mary: the super-spreader before the term even existed
- Foreign Correspondent: Am I the Next Typhoid Mary?
- Science Diction: Quarantine
- How important is “silent spreading” in the covid-19 epidemic?
- COVID-19 patient: ‘It’s made me feel like I’m some sort of a typhoid Mary’
- Don’t Look For Patient Zeros
- If you spread coronavirus you’ll probably be tracked down
- Fears for Civil Rights Mount Amid Fight Against Coronavirus
- More testing could stoke coronavirus stigma in California. What can we do about it?