She was an Irish immigrant cook. Between 1900 and 1907, she infected twenty-two New Yorkers with typhoid fever through her puddings and cakes; one of them died. Tracked down through epidemiological detective work, she was finally apprehended as she hid behind a barricade of trashcans. To protect the public's health, authorities isolated her on Manhattan's North Brother Island, where she died some thirty years later. This book tells the remarkable story of Mary Mallon--the real Typhoid Mary. Combining social history with biography, historian Judith Leavitt re-creates early-twentieth-century New York City, a world of strict class divisions and prejudice against immigrants and women. Leavitt engages the reader with the excitement of the early days of microbiology and brings to life the conflicting perspectives of journalists, public health officials, the law, and Mary Mallon herself. Leavitt's readable account illuminates dilemmas that continue to haunt us. To what degree are we willing to sacrifice individual liberty to protect the public's health? How far should we go in the age of AIDS, drug-resistant tuberculosis, and other diseases? For anyone who is concerned about the threats and quandaries posed by new epidemics, "Typhoid Mary" is a vivid reminder of the human side of disease and disease control.
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(228mm x 152mm x 22mm)
Publisher: Beacon Press
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US Kirkus Review »
A social historian's thoughtful examination of the conflict between individual liberty and public health as exemplified by the case of Mary Mallon, the typhoid fever carrier who, early in this century, was permanently isolated by New York authorities on an island in the East River. Typhoid Mary, an Irish immigrant cook who unwittingly brought death and disease to those who ate her fare, was in 1907 the first person to be identified as a healthy typhoid carrier; she was also the only one to be imprisoned for life as a menace to public health. Leavitt, who teaches women's studies and the history of medicine at the University of Wisconsin, expertly retells Typhoid Mary's story from several perspectives - those of the then-new science of bacteriology, public health policy, the law, the social prejudices of the period, the media, and Mary herself. Leavitt demonstrates how each of these interpretations reinforces or conflicts with the others, leaving the reader to puzzle out the truths of the differing narratives. Interest in Typhoid Mary did not end with her death in 1938, and Leavitt shows how she has been depicted since then in theatrical presentations, novels, and magazine articles. Indeed, the main question her story raises is especially pertinent in today's era of AIDs and drug-resistant tuberculosis: How is it possible to protect the public health from carriers of diseases without infringing on individuals' civil liberties? Leavitt's response is that programs that stigmatize or impoverish people, or that employ coercive mass isolation, are undemocratic and ultimately ineffective. By bringing to light the story of an individual both stigmatized and isolated, she makes a vivid and worthy contribution to the search for humane and equitable answers. (Kirkus Reviews)
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