Typhoid Maryby Judith Walzer Leavitt, Judith W. Leavitt
The real Typhoid Mary was an Irish immigrant cook who infected some twenty-two New Yorkers with typhoid fever before she was traced, caught, and exiled for life. "Resurrecting forgotten history, Judith Leavitt raises an alarm that is much needed in this day of AIDS." PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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 perspectivesthose 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.
"[An] alert and thoughtful work. . . . Leavitt counsels us, through her sympathetic re-creation of the tragedy of Mary Mallon, that such decisions can never be cut-and-dried, and should not be seen as narrowly medical." Roy Porter, Nature
"Leavitt's intricate, painstaking, fascinating unraveling of the many factors contributing to Mallon's fate projects an indelible picture of early-20th-century New York, when modern knowledge and sensibilities collided with ancient terrors. . . . Leavitt's writing succeeds in assigning sublime clarity to an excruciatingly complex subject." Judith E. Harper, The Boston Book Review
"[An] excellent book. . . . Leavitt's carefully crafted account of the life of Typhoid Mary provides an excellent example of the relevance of history to modern public health policy. I highly recommend it to health officials and clinicians, as well as to general readers who just like a good story-or stories." Barron H. Lerner, M.D., Ph.D., American Journal of Public Health
"Strips away the demonizing mythology surrounding Typhoid Mary, transforming the catchphrase into a person the reader can feel for." Blake Eskin, The Boston Phoenix Literary Supplement
"Resurrecting forgotten history, Leavitt raises an alarm that is much needed in this day of AIDS." Publishers Weekly
"Meticulous research, lucid prose and extensive research. . . . Leavitt has written the definitive book on Typhoid Mary. . . . It is a must read." John S. Marr, M.D., M.P.H., Infections in Medicine
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- Product dimensions:
- 6.35(w) x 9.26(h) x 1.31(d)
Meet the Author
Judith Walzer Leavitt is professor in the departments of History of Medicine and of Women's Studies at the University of Wisconsin- Madison. She is author of Brought to Bed: Childbearing in America (1986).
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