In the Fall of 1906, Mary Mallon, a cook, is found to be "patient zero" for a typhoid outbreak leading to her exile. This guide provides access to materials related to "Typhoid Mary” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.
Public health experts blame rare typhus bacilli carrier “Typhoid Mary” for more than 26 serious cases of the disease. Investigations linked cook Mary Mallon to households suffering typhoid outbreaks, leading to forced quarantine by the New York Health Department. After three years in isolation she successfully fought for release, only to be exiled to an island cottage for the rest of her life after authorities discovered she was continuing to work as a cook. Read more about it!
The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.
The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.
August 4, 1906
Mary Mallon begins work as a cook at home in Oyster Bay, NY. By early September, six members of the household are infected with typhoid fever.
Sanitary engineer Dr. George Soper investigates the case. He pronounces Mallon the progenitor of the outbreak.
March 19, 1907
Forcibly removed from her home by the health department, “Typhoid Mary” is sent first to hospitals then to an isolated cabin on North Brother Island. At this time she is referred to in the press with the pseudonym “Mary Ilverson.”
June 30, 1909
Mallon invokes writ of habeas corpus to be released from captivity. New York Supreme Court denies request.
Typhoid Mary is released, on condition that she never work as a cook again.
Mallon threatens to sue New York Health Department for mistreatment, but drops suit a year later.
Mallon sent back to isolation after she is found to be working as cook, under an alias, at a hospital in the midst of a typhoid outbreak.