On March 27, 1915, Mary Mallon, known as Typhoid Mary, was permanently quarantined at this hospital on North Brother Island. From 1900 until her second quarantine in 1915, she was presumed to have infected 49 people, three of whom died, due to her being an asymptomatic carrier.
Typhoid is a bacterial disease commonly spread by eating contaminated food or water, especially food that hasn’t been cooked thoroughly. Mary Mallon was a personal chef, who was known to serve an a popular dessert of raw peaches and ice cream.
Typhoid was a serious disease in New York in the 19th Century, when indoor plumbing was uncommon, regular street cleaning was unheard of, and practices like washing one’s hands were not yet common. These maps from our Library collection show blocks of overcrowded tenements in downtown Manhattan, and the prevalence of diseases like tuberculosis, typhoid fever, scarlet fever and diphtheria.
Public health advances in sanitation and hygiene also coincided with the development of the Typhoid vaccine in 1896, created by Almroth Edward Wright and first used in the Boer War (at the time more soldiers died of preventable diseases than combat). The New-York Historical Society has also explored outbreaks of Smallpox and Cholera, and how public health advances helped combat the spread of these diseases, especially in a place where people live in such close quarters.