Typhoid Mary: Captive To The Public's Health Summary

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“Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public’s Health” was written by Judith Walzer Leavitt, a historian whose careful research and talented writing gave rise to one of the most well-known accounts of Typhoid Mary’s life. The focus of the book, as its very title suggests, is on Mary Mallon, the young woman whose individual rights to freedom were sacrificed for the public’s health and safety.
Born in Ireland, Mary Mallon moved to New York as a teenager and soon became a domestic cook serving in wealthy American households. Unfortunately, the epidemic of typhoid fever was spreading like wildfire through the homes, including the ones where Mallon worked. When the disease hit the household of the banker Charles Warren, the family hired the sanitary engineer George Soper who was well-known for his ‘shoe-leather’ investigations. Soper managed to connect twenty-two cases to the households where Mary served, which convinced him that Mallon was the cook who endangered the public’s health. Soper visited Mallon’s house twice in order to explain to Mary that she was a healthy carrier of typhoid fever as well as to collect samples for
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Nevertheless, in examining the legal arguments presented by Mallon and her attorney, Leavitt draws the readers’ attention to the fact that public health officials were “chasing” Mary but not many other healthy carriers. For example, Alphonse Cotils was spreading typhoid fever just like Mary Mallon was, but he was nonetheless released by promising to do his business over the phone. This example clearly demonstrates the unequal application of justice by public health authorities. Leavitt attributes such differential treatment of healthy carriers to the social attitudes that were prevalent at that time in the United States: many people believed that the Irish, and especially women, were born to be

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