The story of Typhoid Mary -- now with correction!

We are re-running the Staff Report on Typhoid Mary, now with a correction supplied by Phillip Jones, a researcher who has become fascinated with the case and the broader implications of it, not just in terms of epidemiology but also civil rights.

Thanks to Mr. Jones, who supplied us with the memoirs of Dr. George Soper of the New York Board of Health, who was the primary “detective” on the case.

Typhoid Mary remains a public health story: When does the right of the individual give way to the needs of the greater community? The view has changed somewhat since Mary’s time but the problem remains.

Your comments are, as always, solicited.

(Mods, if you feel this is a greater issue that needs to go to another forum rather than Comments, that’s understood. But it did start with a Staff Report, so CCC/SR.)

your humble TubaDiva

Once she was made aware of the situation but yet insisted on carrying on her cooking career anyway, she became a criminal as far as I’m concerned.

Unless murder has become a “civil right”, life in prison for murder seems pretty reasonable to me.

Would someone please clarify the civil rights aspect Was there a law saying that carriers were to be quarantined until such time as they posed no threat? If so, and that determination was to be made by public health officials, I’m confused as to how her civil rights were violated.

IIRC there are laws on the books even today that in the name of public health that contagious/carriers of disease can be quarrantined.

Quarantine regulations have clearly spelled out legal procedures that need to be followed. I’m not sure of the specific laws in NY during Mary’s time, but here’s an excerpt from a good discussion of modern practices (with my bolding)

So. . .Mary never got her day in court, typhoid fever is easily prevented without quarantine, she was not the only vector yet she was the only one in quarantine, and she was never compensated for her time (23 years!!) in isolation.

Sure looks like a civil rights violation to me.


Thanks for the info. That makes sense. Was it common practice to compensate people in quarantine?

Also, was preention only a matter of Mary needing to wash her hands, which she vehemently refused to do? I’m imagining her going to court and the judge ordering her to wash her hands. If she continued to refuse to do so, would she get put back in quarantine? How would it ever have been safe to let her out since she disappeared when she lied and said she’d become a laundress?

It’s a fascinating case, though a depressing one.

The current version of the staff report fits in with my knowledge of the case.

So what was the correction?

If you click on the memoirs, he writes, “There was no autopsy.” The original Staff Report mentions an autopsy.

Sorry, too hung over (lazy) to read the article but how does a carrier go on living a healthy life? I remember in Believe it or Not with Jack Palance, the host said her gall bladder was suspected but she steadfastly refused surgery.

Don’t look now. Unclassified reports will come out as to how carriers can be weaponized.

She was apparently asymptomatic but infectious. Not unheard of.


your humble TubaDiva