North Brother Island

Nearly Forgotten History on the Coast Series

Typhoid Mary, c/o North Brother Island

Island in the East River, New York

by m/v Dyad



Typhoid Mary, An Unhappy Island Girl

The old Riverside Hospital ruins on North Brother Island are a familiar sight to anyone who's cruised the East River. Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary spent the last 23 years of her life there, and not by choice.

In 1900, Mary Mallon, was working as a household cook in New York when several members of the family fell ill with typhoid fever. A succession of families who hired her fared no better. All or most of the family members sickened, some had to be hospitalized; one died.

By 1907 it seemed clear Mary was the link among the affected households. The city sanitation engineer and typhoid researcher, George Soper, paid her a visit and requested stool and urine samples. Mary was livid and refused to comply.

The next time Soper came to see her, he brought several policemen. She reportedly threatened them with bodily harm if they didn't leave. "Mary was on the lookout and peered out, a long kitchen fork in her hand like a rapier. 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." recalled Soper.

Mary was found the following day and taken to a hospital. Doctors found typhoid bacilli in her stool, and handed her over to the health department who took her to North Brother Island where she was confined to a small cottage maintained by Riverside Hospital. Mary was understandably angry. "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?"

Mary was kept on the island until 1910, then set free on the condition that she never again work as a cook.

By 1915, Typhoid Mary was nearly forgotten, until an outbreak of typhoid occurred at a maternity hospital. Mary was found working in the kitchen under an assumed name.

She was taken into custody, charged with public endangerment, and transported back to North Brother Island, where she spent the next 23 years living in the same cottage as before. Mary Mallon died on November 11, 1938, still angry.


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