It was in 1906 that much of the Warren family came down with typhoid fever. The Warrens had been renting a summer home in Oyster Bay and owner George Thomas was nervous about the home’s future. Who would want to rent a house after the Warrens had come down with typhoid? He shuddered to think and hired someone to find the source. When investigations turned up nothing, Dr. George Sopher was called in. Sopher learned after much digging that the Warren’s cook, Mary Mallon, had left suddenly after the outbreak. She had given no explanation, she had just left. Sopher visited employment agencies and learned that in each of Mallon’s employers’ households, members of the staff or family had contracted typhoid. Mallon was a murderer, in Sopher’s eyes, and needed to be stopped.
Sopher finally caught up with Mallon in 1907. She had ‘struck again’, a well-to-do family’s daughter having died as a result and two other persons were ill. Mallon didn’t flee this time, though. She was still working for the family, when she agreed to speak with Sopher. While he said he was diplomatic in his discussion, he seemed to have lacked wisdom. In what must’ve been an embarrassing experience for Mallon, Sopher demanded he be allowed samples of blood and such so it could be tested for typhoid. He strongly believed that Mallon was a typhoid carrier. He requested this in front of members of the infected family and household staff. The proud Mallon went after Sopher with a carving fork as he made a quick retreat outside of the home. Even after the confrontation Mallon continued to stay on with the family.
Sopher followed Mallon home one night, unbeknownst to her. He found that she lived in a seedy boarding house with Breihof, a drunk. Sopher was able to get info from Breihof, mainly through drinks. Behind Mallon’s back the oblivious Breihof set up a meeting with Sopher and Mallon. When Mallon found out she was furious. She told Sopher that she had never had and did not have typhoid. She was perfectly healthy. Sopher eventually left, his memorized speeches having gotten him nowhere. He went to the Health Department and told them of Mary’s situation.
The Health Department sent Dr. Sara Josephine Baker to speak with the Irishwoman. No matter how willing Baker may have been, Mallon was not going to have any of their nonsense talk about her having typhoid. The nerve. There wasn’t a healthier person around than Mallon. The next day Baker returned with an ambulance and group of policeman. As can be expected, Mallon ran. After several hours of a wild goose chase the ‘posse’ noticed a water closet. Inside was Mallon. Baker tried to reason with Mallon, but it was a waste of time. When she refused to cooperate, five policemen and Baker struggled to get Mallon into the ambulance by force. It was a difficult task as Mallon gave a mighty struggle and shouted profanity. On the way to the hospital Baker was forced to sit on Mallon. At the hospital Mallon was locked up in a room. Sopher came by to further question Mallon. He explained as best as he could her situation. He told Mallon that she had spread the disease by not properly cleaning her hands before cooking and that her gallbladder needed to be removed, as that was the most likely place that the typhoid germs resided. He also assured her that she would function just as well without a gallbladder, as she did with it. After he finished prattling on, Mallon left him without a word.
In 1907 Mallon was sent to Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island, which had a dreary history. An angered Mallon hired lawyer George O’Neill . In 1909 Mallon pleaded her case. While she was held against her will in a ‘prison’, other recently discovered typhoid carriers were roaming free. The battle continued to rage on as Mallon fought for her freedom. In 1910 Mallon was released, having ‘learned her lesson’. While she wasn’t cured she now knew how to keep herself from infecting others. In late 1911 she sued for $50,000 although it never came to trial. Now that Mallon was free she was forbidden to work as a cook, instead she was forced to take a job as a laundress. She also had to make regular check-ups at the Health Department. It looked as if it would be a dark future. Things worsened when Breihof died. Having lost nearly everything Mallon stopped reporting to the Health Department and took up cooking again.
In 1915 there was an outbreak of typhoid at the Sloane Hospital for Women. When the staff was tested for typhoid it was found that a cook was carrying the disease. That cook was Mallon. She fled to a friend’s, but it is believed that she was betrayed. This time there was no fight as she left with the police. She was taken back to North Brother Island. There she befriended some people. One was Adelaide Offspring and another Dr. Alexandra Plavska. Plavska made the dispirited Irishwoman her lab assistant, Mallon also working in the came capacity for bacteriologist Emma Sherman. Those that counted Mallon among their friends remembered her as being eager to please. Indeed, Mallon often tried to show them kindness, bringing them little things now and then. Many of those that knew her, also remembered her as being a large woman and that she looked like a man.
In late 1932 Emma Sherman went to find Mallon when she didn’t show up for work in the lab. She found Mallon in her dark, filthy shack, paralyzed. Mallon had suffered a stroke. Sherman continued to visit Mallon at the hospital although Mallon didn’t recognize her. Finally she quit thinking it was pointless. On November 11, 1938 Mallon died, no doubt a lonely, broken person. In her will she left a considerable sum to Offspring. Also named in her will was Plavska and a few others. She paid for her own headstone which was simple. The epitaph read Jesus Mercy. She is buried in the Bronx.
For further reading you may consider Typhoid Mary by Anthony Bourdain. This was the only book of Mallon I could get and frankly, the author could’ve of been so much more professional in his writing. His ‘colorful’ language does nothing for the book.
Source: Bourdain, Anthony. Typhoid Mary: An Urban Historical.