Germ warfare

13 Sep

September means exposure to back-to-school contagions. That’s why most schools now include had sanitizer on their supply lists. That’s why new teachers get sick so often. I taught at my last school for 12 years and for the last few, I didn’t even get a cold. I knew those germs intimately and had developed a good system of defense. Now that I’m at a new school, I’m being extra cautious, taking more precautions that usual to keep myself healthy, although I think the problem is less severe at a middle school that it is in an elementary school. I hope I’m not carrying new germs into my new school community, either. I;d hate to be a Typhoid Mary.

Yes, poor Mary Mallon, who has gone down in history as Typhoid Mary, or Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America  which is how Susan Campbell Bartoletti refers to Mary in her recently published book.

Unknown

Publisher’s Summary:This is the story of a cook – a quiet, diligent cook who kept to herself. Her speciality was homemade ice cream topped with fresh peaches, which she served on hot summer days. She worked for some of the wealthiest families in New York, who spoke highly of her skills.

In August 1906, when six members of one household nearly died, the cook mysteriously disappeared – and the hunt for Typhoid Mary began. The resulting story became a tabloid scandal. But the true story of Mary Mallon is far greater than the sensationalized and fear-mongering stories. It’s also a lesser known story of human and civil rights violations. How did this private and obscure domestic cook become one of the most notorious women in American history? What happens to a person whose name and reputation are forever damaged? And who is responsible for the lasting legacy of the woman who became known as Typhoid Mary?

There is not a lot of documentary evidence of Mary Mallon’s life, so the book is as much a narrative of hygiene and social customs at the time Mary lived. Because of this, Bartoletti has to create an idea of what could have happened by using words such as “probably”, “perhaps”, “may have”, etc. In spite of this, I found this a very interesting read, and would be great nonfiction companion to Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble (about  a cholera plague in London) and  Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever, 1783 ( a Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia).

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