March 10th 2015 by Calkins Creek
Copy Provided by Kerry McManus of Boyds Mills Press
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A little more than 100 years ago, public sanitation was so completely different than it is today that it is almost unimaginable. Raw sewage being let loose in city streets or rural creeks, crowded living conditions complete with rats and all manner of bugs, and only rudimentary medications to help when people fell ill. This was the world of Typhoid Mary, aka Mary Mallon, the cook who was an unwitting carrier of typhoid in early 1900s New York and environs. Since she herself had never been ill with the fever, and was a clean person according to the standards of the time, she refused to believe that she was responsible for more than 20 deaths of people who fell ill after eating her cooking.
Even more interesting is the work of George Soper, a leader in the sanitation movement, who was able to pinpoint Mallon as a key figure in many of the typhoid outbreaks he was studying. His detection lead not only to Mallon’s identification, but to the identities of several other carriers who sickened those around them while remaining well themselves. Also interesting is Josephine Baker, a NYC medical investigator who went on to work extensively with children’s health initiatives. Mallon’s story is an interesting one, and this book gives background information on typhoid as well as following Mallon’s actions and the results of her stubborness to quit working on her employers. Well illustrated, with an excellent bibliography, this is a great addition to a middle school library collection for research, but also for readers who like literary nonfiction in the style of Russell Freedman or Jim Murphy.
It is hard for people today to understand what an epidemic is, or how terrible some diseases can be, which might explain the current trend in the news of people not wanting to vaccinate children. This book explains those things beautifully, and is an excellent companion to Julie Chibbaro’s Deadly.