Timely History: Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon was born in September of 1869 in Cookstown in what is now Northern Ireland. She immigrated to the United States in 1883 or so. In 1900, she found her calling as a cook for wealthy families in the New York City.  

Why should you care about this woman? Because as COVID-19 runs rampant around the world, there is a lot of discussion around quarantine, social distancing, and isolation. So, what does poor Mary from the 1800s have to do with this? Well, she is best known as “Typhoid Mary.” 

What’s typhoid? It’s a bacterial infection which causes a lot of symptoms like weakness, abdominal pain, vomiting, and death. The bacteria lives in urine and feces. Want to guess how you get it? I won’t continue. What I will say is lesson #1 from this post is WASH YOUR HANDS

Typhoid Mary loved cooking, apparently. She had trouble holding down a job, though. It seems whoever she worked for always had this nasty habit of getting typhoid. Once the family would get sick, Mary would change her name and disappear, popping up somewhere else. Lesson #2: ALWAYS CHECK REFERENCES

A doctor was finally hired to understand what was going on. He eventually tracked down Mary and explained the situation. Mary was an asymptomatic carrier. She wouldn’t get sick, but she could get other people sick because she didn’t wash her hands when cooking. Mary tried to kill him with a meat cleaver. Ultimately, Mary was forcibly quarantined for three years with no trial. Lesson #3: GET A LAWYER

Mary was released finally after promising not to be a cook anymore. This she did. For probably a year or so. She finally went too far once again when she became a cook for a New York City hospital. She was quarantined again until she died in 1938. Lesson #4: IF A DOCTOR SAYS YOU HAVE IT THEN YOU PROBABLY HAVE IT. 

Mary infected at least 50 people and killed at least 3. I say, “at least” because she moved so much the number could possibly be much higher. 

Don’t be like Mary. Be safe out there. 

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Timely History: Typhoid Mary
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