“Typhoid” Mary Mallon

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.)

About typhoid and other diseases

About later American laws regarding the criminalizing the spreading of disease

A few of the many op-eds and articles about Typhoid Mary in the last few weeks