Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Typhoid Mary


When it became know that Typhoid Mary had struck again, there was an immediate public uproar. Only two years before, there was a fierce outbreak of typhoid on Manhattan's upper East Side. Hundreds were infected and the disease spread rapidly. "The lives of thousands of children are daily placed in jeopardy," said one resident to the mayor. "The disease is growing and is the product of absolute indifference on the part of officials to enforce the sanitary laws" (September 29, 1913, New York Press).

Fear of infectious diseases was very strong in the public mind and because epidemics were not well understood, officials felt a great deal of pressure to do something about "Typhoid Mary." She had ignored warnings, refused to cooperate with health authorities and intentionally spread typhoid among the general population. "The publicity given the career of 'Typhoid Mary' has marked her as the most celebrated germ-carrier in the world," said the Times (March 28, 1915).

Some people wanted her charged with murder for the two deaths at Sloane Hospital while others wanted Mallon locked up for good. "Here she was," said Dr. Soper a few days later, "dispensing germs daily with the food served up to the patients, employees, doctors and nurses of the hospital-a total of  281 persons. Twenty-five of this number were attacked by typhoid before the epidemic could be checked (April 4, 1915). Newspaper editorials lobbied against her and gone was the sympathy Mary received when she was first incarcerated in 1909. "A chance was given to her five years ago to live in freedom and she had deliberately  elected to throw it away," said the Herald Tribune (Hasian 134).

But the Health Department already knew that an appeal to the criminal courts was not necessary. The issue had already been decided under Section 1170 of the Charter of Greater New York. The statute read, "it (the Health Board) shall require the isolation of all persons and things exposed to such diseases ... The danger to the public health is a sufficient ground for the exercise of police power in the restraint of liberty of such persons" (Bourdain 107-108). By order of the health department, Mary was taken back to North Brother Island and placed in isolation.

However, she was still defiant and saw herself as a victim of bureaucrats who would stop at nothing to imprison her. "As there is a God in heaven," she once said to a New York reporter, "I will get justice, somehow, sometime" (Leavitt 142).


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