Typhoid Mary: The True Story

In the early 1900s, typhoid was one the main killer diseases in the United States. It was also a horrible illness, with its victims often suffering from intestinal bleeding and brain inflammation, along with a dangerously high fever. If you caught it, there was a 30% chance that you would not survive.

This was also the era when doctors finally stopped believing that diseases could be spread by bad smells and recognized that bacteria were to blame for many diseases. This scientific breakthrough allowed epidemiologists to trace the source of major outbreaks of disease. Since typhoid is a bacterial illness, tracing the source of an epidemic was now possible.


In 1906, the wealthy Warren family were vacationing on Long Island when six of their party came down with the dreaded illness. When the family hired George Soper, a civil engineer, to locate the source of their illness, he set to work investigating. He decided that the Warren’s cook, Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant, was the source of the infection.

At first, the Warrens could not believe that Mary had made them ill. She had never come down with typhoid, so how could she have spread it? While investigating the health histories of Warren’s staff, Soper had discovered, that Mary had changed jobs once a year for the past seven years. At each one of her former jobs, the family had contracted typhoid, and at least one person had died.

Soper tried to convince Mary to give him urine, blood, and fecal samples to be tested for typhoid, but she threatened to stab him with a meat fork, so he left. The New York Health Department stepped in, though, and with the help of police officers took Mary into custody.

Mary was forced to remain in custody for three years, where it was discovered that she was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid. Her body was full of bacteria that had no effect on her health at all. Her habit of not washing her hands before preparing food probably caused to her to spread the disease so easily.

Mary was confined in a New York quarantine facility, forced to provide 163 samples of different bodily fluids, until she was finally released in 1910. The only condition attached to her freedom was that she not become a cook again. She took a job in a laundry and was soon forgotten.

In 1915, Sloan Maternity Hospital experienced a typhoid outbreak among its staff. Twenty-three people became ill, and two died. When health officials visited the hospital to investigate the outbreak, a cook named Mary Brown could not be located. She had fled, but was eventually caught. As it turned out, Mary Brown was none other than Mary Mallon, the same woman who had made so many people ill from typhoid already. It seemed she just couldn’t stay out of the kitchen.

The authorities were not taking any chances this time, and Mary was confined again to the same facility. This time she was forced to remain there until her death 23 years later. Oddly, she did not die from the typhoid that she was infested with. She actually succumbed to a stroke. No one ever found out why she continued to work as a cook, even though her habit of leaving a job as soon as her employer became ill seems to suggest she knew something was wrong with her. She insisted until her dying day, though, that she was not a carrier of the deadly disease.

Next Article
  • The Tallest Unoccupied Building In The World

    Coming in at a whopping 105 stories and 330 meters tall the Ryugyong hotel is a pyramid-shaped skyscraper in Pyongyang in North Korea. The name of the hotel actually translates to “Capital of Willows” and is one of the names that historically was used to refer to Pyongyang. Some, however,...

    Read More
  • It Would Take You 6 Billion Years To Beat This Supercomputer

    This ultrapowerful supercomputer is so fast and shiny it puts every other supercomputer to shame, just unveiled in a ceremony at the physics laboratory in Tennessee, it is named Summit. At this moment it has not been confirmed but it is believed to be the fastest supercomputer in the world. The interesting point for the...

    Read More
  • Every Panda In The World Is Owned By China

    No matter where the panda is or in what realm of the world he is wandering, one thing they all have in common is they are actually all owned by the Chinese government. And they make quite a hefty sum of money from leasing them out every year. The panda...

    Read More
  • Switzerland Has Accidentally Invaded Liechtenstein Three Times

    You may not have heard of the small country of Lichtenstein, a tiny country in central Europe which is landlocked by Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. It is a microstate, and still has a constitutional monarchy with the Prince of Liechtenstein at the top. But that didn’t stop Switzerland accidentally invading...

    Read More
  • Prehistoric Frogs Show Us Life From 99 Million Years Ago

    Scientist and archeologists together have been able to shine a light into a lost world, finding frogs trapped in a sticky amber resin from over 99 million years ago. These frogs have been preserved in the resin and have most likely been there since the end of the Age of the Dinosaurs. [caption id="attachment_4700" align="aligncenter"...

    Read More
  • Walking Through A Door Can Cause A Loss In Memory

    It has happened to all of us, we think we know what we are looking for and suddenly you do not. As you enter the next room, you are left wondering why on earth did you walk through the door? You run upstairs to grab your phone before going out, and then when you get...

    Read More
  • When One Team Was Defending Both Nets

    When it comes to strange football matches there have been many, some point to the 31 goals Australia put passed American Samoa or the infamous AS Adema 149-0 win over SO l’Emyrne. But actually, the strangest match of football was between Barbados and Grenada during the 1994 Shell Caribbean Cup. ...

    Read More
  • Ball Lightning The Mysterious Glowing Phenomenon

    For years ball lightning has stumped scientists and caused panic all around the world. Many times it has been mistaken for UFOs and caused confusion, even causing damage to homes. And for many centuries it was a mystery, it made no sense when confronted with the norms of science. Was it something supernatural? [caption id="attachment_4691"...

    Read More