Documentary Monday~~Typhoid Mary (Nova Special)

TitleTyphoid Mary: The Most Dangerous Woman in America


Summary–This special that originally aired on Nova tells the story of Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant cook in New York who was a healthy carrier of typhoid.  She infected numerous people with the disease and was eventually quarantined by the Department of Public Health.

My Thoughts–I picked this up at the library because I just finished reading Deadly by Julie Chibbaro and I wanted to learn more about the infamous “Typhoid Mary.”  Unfortunately, I didn’t really learn any new information that I hadn’t discovered from reading the book.  I did discover that Miss Chibbaro did an awfully good job of researching the topic.

Even though I didn’t learn a lot of new info, I still really enjoyed this special.  Before I read Deadly, I didn’t know anything about Typhoid Mary.  She was discovered in 1906 as a healthy carrier of the typhoid fever disease.  This was a radical idea at the time when scientists were just beginning to learn about the bacteria that causes disease.  Mary Mallon had never been sick in her life but the families that she cooked for kept coming down with typhoid.

When I read Deadly, the story was told from the point of view of the health officials, so I didn’t really have much sympathy for Mary at all.  She resisted the officials at every turn and refused to believe that she had ever made anyone sick.  I was happy when she got put into quarantine because I knew she couldn’t do any more damage.  When I watched Typhoid Mary, I found myself feeling much differently about her.  I realized how crazy the scientists must have sounded when they told her that she had typhoid and was spreading it around.  If I was a perfectly healthy person who knew nothing about bacteria, I would be pretty pissed off if somebody wanted a sample of my pooh.

But, as several historians point out in the documentary, she loses sympathy when she goes right back to cooking for people once she is released!  What were you thinking Mary???  Typhoid is transmitted through food!!!  We might not be talking about you today if you had just disappeared into history as a maid or a laundry worker.

A couple of interesting tidbits about this special.  They have actors playing several of the key historical figures including Mary.  At first I thought this was super cheesy, but after a while I got used to it and it actually added a lot to the show.  Also, Anthony Bourdain is one of the guys they interview.  Huh?  Is it because he’s a chef and Mary was a cook???  I didn’t really get it, but it was nice to see someone I recognized.

Final Verdict–Great introduction to the topic of Typhoid Mary.  I thought it did a good job of showing both sides to the story and portraying her as something other than the monster she is known as today.




2 Responses to “Documentary Monday~~Typhoid Mary (Nova Special)”

  1. 1 Abby May 9, 2011 at 11:34 am

    Maybe cooking was her only skill, the only way she wanted to make a living… And the government’s coming after her and forcing her to stop the only job she wants to do… I’d probably sneak off and start cooking again, too. The health officials must have sounded completely crazy to her and with all the tension around immigrants, she probably just thought they were lying to her!

  2. 2 ngtjennifer May 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm

    Yeah, especially since germs and things like that were so new, she probably thought they were just making up excuses for them to pick on her because she was an immigrant.

    I guess I don’t understand why she didn’t realize that everyone she worked for kept getting sick. It kind of proved the point that the scientists were trying to make. But her story is really sad.

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