NIH Press Release
National Library of Medicine

Monday, Mar. 10, 1997

Melanie Modlin
(301) 496-7771

"Typhoid Mary" is Topic of Annual Women's History Month Lecture

(Bethesda, MD) -- On Thursday, March 20, 1997, at 2:00 p.m., the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, will hold its Annual Women's History Month lecture. The speaker will be Professor Judith W. Leavitt (University of Wisconsin, Madison), who will take as her topic "Personal Liberty or the Public Health? The Story of Typhoid Mary." The free, 90-minute program will take place on the NIH campus, in the Lister Hill Auditorium, Lister Hill Building (Building 38A), off Center Drive (near corner of Rockville Pike), Bethesda. Sign language interpretation will be provided.

"Typhoid Mary," whose real name was Mary Mallon, was taken into custody in New York in 1907 when tests showed her to be a healthy carrier for typhoid fever. Her location and identity had been determined by tracing a large number of typhoid cases to kitchens where she had worked.

She was placed in an isolation cottage on North Brother Island, one of the small islands in the East River in New York City. Except for the period between 1910 and 1915, when Mallon was released under strict conditions (which she promptly ignored), she remained in custody on the island until her death in 1938.

Mallon was never "tried" in any legal sense; she was imprisoned as a threat to the public health and safety. Professor Leavitt's lecture will address the difficult issues raised when the rights of the individual collide with the public good.