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FACING DOWN THE RULERS OF WALL STREET A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. THEY ARE BACK.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

TWO; MARY, MARY, QUITE CONTRARY

I am of two minds about "Typhoid Mary". The officials could not prove in court that Mary Mallon was spreading typhoid fever. That made her arrest and detention unconstitutional. And thank God they locked her up.
After Mary chased Mr. Soper out of the Bowen family kitchen, it would appear that he was no longer welcomed in the house by Mr, Bowen - which makes me wonder if he was as “diplomatic” as he claimed to be. We know that the next time he tried to talk to Mary Mr. Soper approached her at the rooming house where she lived. This time he even brought along an actual medical doctor, Doctor Raymond Hobbler. But this did not strengthen his argument. Again Mary refused to hand over her urine, blood or feces. Defeated yet again, the Health Department decided to dispatch Doctor Sara Josephine Baker (above), an assistant, an ambulance and five police officers.Mary was not a complete fool. She had consulted a chemist – what we would call a pharmacist. He had examined her and assured Mary she was clear of the disease. So she felt it was the health officials who were crazy. Doctor Baker explained later what happened when Mary answered the knock on her rooming house door. “As she lunged at me with the fork, I stepped back, recoiled on the policeman, and so confused matters that, by the time we got through the door, Mary had disappeared.” They turned the tiny house upside down, and five hours later found Mary hiding in the supply closet of a neighboring house. Wrote Dr. Baker, “(Mary) came out fighting and swearing, both of which she could do with appalling efficiency and vigor…she was maniacal in her integrity…The policemen lifted her into the ambulance and I literally sat on her all the way to (Willard Parker Hospital)…it was like being in a cage with an angry lion.”
At last the health officials could obtain the precious samples. The blood and urine were negative. But the stool was described as “teeming” with "Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi". Under the city code 1169, requiring Health officials to avoid causes of disease, and code 1170 giving them the right to place any ill person in isolation, they now restricted Mary Mallon to the Hospital on North Brother Island, in the middle of the East River. She would remain there for almost three years.But throughout that time Mary continued to fight back. The hospital's tests showed 120 out of 163 of her stool samples tested positive for typhoid. So Mary sent her own samples to a private lab and consulted her own physicians. They reported her as free of typhoid. As she wrote the courts, “I am an innocent human being. I have committed no crime, and I am treated like an outcast - - a criminal. It is unjust, outrageous, uncivilized. It seems to me incredible that in a Christian community a defenseless woman can be treated in this manner.” Clearly this was not an ignorant woman. A photo of patients taken from the hospital on North Brother Island is dominated by a glaring Mary Mallon from the first bed. No wonder she is glaring becuase it is a staged photo. Except for her first few days there, Mary was not confinded to a bed. She was not ill. She lived in a small shack (below - called a "cottage" by the officals ). But she was still not a woman to be ignored.
George Soper fought back. “The state has the power to compel the ignorant, the selfish, the careless and the vicious to so regulate their lives and property so that they shall not be the source of danger to others. The welfare of the many is the supreme law…” It was an arrogant argument which in 1909 swayed Justice Mitchell Erlanger. “While the court deeply sympathizes with this unfortunate woman, it must protect the community.” But the public was now aware of Mary’s predicament, and public pressure began to build for her release.In 1910 a new commissioner of the NYC Board of Health agreed to release Mary if she promised to no longer work as a cook, and checked in every three months with the board. Mary immediately agreed, and on February 20th 1909 she stepped off the ferry from Brothers Island and blended into the city of New York. She reported to the Health Department a few times and then simply disappeared. She was not heard again for five years.
In January 1915 there was another outbreak of typhoid fever at the Sloan Maternity Hospital. Twenty-five nurses and workers fell sick, two of whom died. Eventually the investigation narrowed to a new cook, named Mrs. Brown. And upon being arrested by the police Mrs. Brown confessed. She was actually Mary Mallon. Mr. Soper observed, “Here she was, dispensing germs daily with the food…” The press wanted her tried for murder and the public, which had supported her plea for freedom five years before, were now universal in their condemnation. But Mary herself was unrepentant, telling a reporter, “As there is a God in heaven, I will get justice, somehow, sometime.” She still refused to believe she was the source of infection. She told Life magazine, “I am doomed to be a prisoner for life!”She was. She returned to her cottage, and eventually a job helping in the laboratory. That is Mary above, on the right, wearing glasses now, standing next to bacteriologist Emma Sherman. Mary must have been lonley. She had few visitors, usually staff, and never admitted she might be responsible for any illness or deaths. For twenty-three years she was identified to all as “Typhoid Mary”. Then, in December of 1932 she suffered a massive stroke. In 1938 she died. An autopsy revealed her liver heavily infected with Typhoid bacteria. Mary Mallon is buried in St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx.George Soper built a career on public health, becoming director of the American Cancer Society from 1923 to 1928. He died on June 17, 1948, at the age of 78, in relative obscurity. He must have known that his subject, the woman he built his career upon, would be better remembered than he was; which was odd. She wanted no fame, while he hungered for it. No cause of death for Mr. Soper was given. Again, that seems a little odd, to me.

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3 comments:

  1. good story! i am a medical student who is going to do a presentation on typhoid fever tomorrow this would be a good intro for me! thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  2. a follower of christ??? i pity her unfortunate fate after reading the articles describing her hunt. perhaps its true as the bible depicts that the faithful are always doomed in the mortal realm???

    ReplyDelete
  3. I feel sorry for her. It's not like she gave everyone typhoid fever on purpose. GOSH!!!!!!

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