Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Epidemic & Typhoid Mary

Yesterday was spent pouring over death certificates from the early 1900's in Baltimore County, Maryland.

Moving through the records my eyes glanced over names and dates to discover the missing pieces of the family puzzle. Many of these members list Brights Disease, arteriosclerosis, and myocardits as cause of death.

As I scrolled through the reels typhoid fever began to appear on records of youngsters residing in Baltimore. My first reaction was of sadness for the families losing their most vulnerable members. How difficult to imagine our ancestors dealing with such tragedy in our age of miracle drugs.

With so many deaths attributed to this disease I started wondering if there was an epidemic during this time frame. A quick Google search revealed the article "An Opinion Upon the Outbreak of Typhoid Fever at St. Vincent's Infant Asylum, Baltimore County, MD., During July and August, 1909. by Marshall Langton Price, M. D., Baltimore, MD".

Further information discovered:

Baltimore and Ohio Employes Magazine, volume 2 published October, 1913

St. Vincent's Orphan Asylum - The New Chapter of Baltimore City, published 1900

It is always satisfying to place records in historical context, but sometimes they engendered bittersweet emotions. So very sad to discover these little ones in a orphanage perishing from a dreadful disease.

During my research there was mention of Mary Mallon aka Typhoid Mary. Everyone has heard this name used while describing someone to avoid at all costs. I do not believe I have ever heard the true story surrounding this historical figure.

May to October, 1913.

Article from Medical Record: a weekly Journal of Medicine and Surgery, volume 77 January 1, 1910-June 25, 1910 - edited by Thomas L. Stedman, A.M., M.D., published 1910.

published January, 1915

Further reading on Typhoid Mary:

Typhoid Mary: Villain or Victim? by Judith Walzer Leavitt,

So goes the day of traveling in many directions locating facts from one single document! My favorite part of genealogy research.


  1. Now you are filling my affinity for trivia and history. And in the back of my head I'm being haunted by the question "as many times as I've heard Typhoid Mary", why have I never looked up its origin? Thanks for this post. I loved the references!

  2. Now...I"m really embarrassed. Just asked my hubby, willing to share my new knowledge, "Have you ever used the phrase Typhoid Mary?"

    "Sure" he exclaimed. He then spouted the accurate origin of the phrase.

    How did you know that I asked? Answer: "I paid attention in the 6th grade!"

  3. Don't feel bad, Kathleen. I just asked my hubby and he said pretty much the same thing! Ouch!

  4. I recently did some research on Typhoid Mary too after finding that a distant cousin either resided at Riverside Hospital in 1942.

  5. A wonderful post, Deb! Urine and excrement, huh? Makes you a bit grateful for today's hygiene knowledge!

  6. I love this post. I saw a special on her one time. Very interesting and sad case.