Typhoid Mary

How ‘Typhoid Mary’ infected countless and still haunts New York Island

By MOLLY MULDOON, IrishCentral.com Staff Writer

“She came out fighting and swearing, both of which she could do with appalling efficiency and vigor. I made another effort to talk to her sensibly and asked her again to let me have the specimens, but it was of no use. By that time she was convinced that the law was wantonly persecuting her, when she had done nothing wrong. She knew she had never had typhoid fever; she was maniacal in her integrity. There was nothing I could do but take her with us. The policemen lifted her into the ambulance and I literally sat on her all the way to the hospital; it was like being in a cage with an angry lion.”

Typhoid Mary

Mary was taken to Willard Parker Hospital in New York where typhoid bacilli was found in her stool. The hospital then transferred her to an isolated cottage which was part of Riverside Hospital

Mary could not understand why she was being persecuted. In her own mind she was perfectly healthy. She could not comprehend how she could spread a disease and cause deaths when she exhibited none of the symptoms herself.

“I never had typhoid in my life, and have always been healthy. Why should I be banished like a leper and compelled to live in solitary confinement with only a dog for a companion?”

Two years after her isolation on North Brother Island Mary sued the Health Department. During her two year confinement health officials analyzed  Mary’s stool samples once a week. The samples came back mostly positive. However Mary also sent her stool samples to a private lab where all her the tests proved negative for the typhoid bacteria which made her think now more than ever she was the victim of unfair persecution.

When her case came to court the judge ruled in favor of the health officials and noted that Mary was now popularly known as “Typhoid Mary”. However in 1910 a new health commissioner decided that Mary could be released from quarantine as along as she never worked with food again. Finally the Tyrone woman was allowed to walk free.

She began working in a laundry but soon after became tired of the poor wages in comparison to when she was a cook. Mary then still believing that she posed no risk to anyone changed her name to Mary Brown and once again took up a paid position as a cook.

The cycle started again. Nearly five years after her release when an outbreak of typhoid fever in the Sloane Maternity Hospital occurred it was discovered they had recently hired a new cook called Mrs Brown. Any sympathy she had from people after her release quickly disappeared when they discovered that she had wittingly cause pain and suffering to those who were infected.

Once again she was sent back to North Brother Island to live in the same isolated cottage. Details of her life on the island are scant but it is known that she helped around the hospital.
She suffered a large stroke in 1932 that left her paralyzed. She was then transferred to the children’s wing of the hospital where she spent the following six years of life until her death on November 11th 1938 aged 69.

Typhoid Patients

“She came out fighting and swearing, both of which she could do with appalling efficiency and vigor. I made another effort to talk to her sensibly and asked her again to let me have the specimens, but it was of no use. By that time she was convinced that the law was wantonly persecuting her, when she had done nothing wrong. She knew she had never had typhoid fever; she was maniacal in her integrity. There was nothing I could do but take her with us. The policemen lifted her into the ambulance and I literally sat on her all the way to the hospital; it was like being in a cage with an angry lion.”

Mary was taken to Willard Parker Hospital in New York where typhoid bacilli was found in her stool. The hospital then transferred her to an isolated cottage which was part of Riverside Hospital.

Mary could not understand why she was being persecuted. In her own mind she was perfectly healthy. She could not comprehend how she could spread a disease and cause deaths when she exhibited none of the symptoms herself.

“I never had typhoid in my life, and have always been healthy. Why should I be banished like a leper and compelled to live in solitary confinement with only a dog for a companion?”

Two years after her isolation on North Brother Island Mary sued the Health Department. During her two year confinement health officials analyzed  Mary’s stool samples once a week. The samples came back mostly positive. However Mary also sent her stool samples to a private lab where all her the tests proved negative for the typhoid bacteria which made her think now more than ever she was the victim of unfair persecution.

When her case came to court the judge ruled in favor of the health officials and noted that Mary was now popularly known as “Typhoid Mary”. However in 1910 a new health commissioner decided that Mary could be released from quarantine as along as she never worked with food again. Finally the Tyrone woman was allowed to walk free.

Typhoid Mary 2

She began working in a laundry but soon after became tired of the poor wages in comparison to when she was a cook. Mary then still believing that she posed no risk to anyone changed her name to Mary Brown and once again took up a paid position as a cook.

The cycle started again. Nearly five years after her release when an outbreak of typhoid fever in the Sloane Maternity Hospital occurred it was discovered they had recently hired a new cook called Mrs Brown. Any sympathy she had from people after her release quickly disappeared when they discovered that she had wittingly cause pain and suffering to those who were infected.

Once again she was sent back to North Brother Island to live in the same isolated cottage. Details of her life on the island are scant but it is known that she helped around the hospital.
She suffered a large stroke in 1932 that left her paralyzed. She was then transferred to the children’s wing of the hospital where she spent the following six years of life until her death on November 11th 1938 aged 69.

This argumentative woman from Tyrone  was the first healthy typhoid carrier to be identified by medical science. She became famous after giving rise to the most famous outbreaks of carrier borne disease in medical history. Throughout her life “Typhoid Mary” was blamed for 51 cases and 3 deaths of typhoid.

North Brother Island on New York’s east river where Mary spent a large part of her life has been since abandoned and some say her ghost still roams the derelict hospital corridors.