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Most Dangerous Woman in America, The

Program Overview


Typhoid Mary NOVA tells the story of the life and struggles of Mary Mallon—the first healthy carrier of typhoid fever ever identified—and reviews the development of the nation's early public health policies as well as the question of individual versus societal rights.

The program:

  • reviews the symptoms, virulence, transmission, and cause of typhoid fever.

  • reveals the discovery in 1907 that people who had recovered from typhoid fever could still transfer the bacteria—they could be "healthy carriers"of the disease.

  • relates how epidemiologist George Soper tracked down and first contacted Mallon, an Irish immigrant who had infected six of the eight families she had worked for over a ten-year period.

  • portrays Mallon's fierce resistance to voluntary testing, her eventual arrest, and the forced testing that revealed she was carrying typhoid bacteria.

  • contrasts Mallon's working-class world with that of the more educated public health officials who pursued her and speculates how those differences may have affected how Mallon was viewed.

  • chronicles the evolution of New York public health policies that attempted to stem such diseases as typhoid fever, cholera, scarlet fever, and tuberculosis.

  • reviews Mallon's quarantine at Riverside Hospital on North Brother Island, the use of experimental medicines on her while she was there, and her failed legal bid to win freedom from the island.

  • relates Mallon's 1910 release by New York public health officials and her subsequent failure to keep her promise never to work again as a cook.

  • follows Mallon's reconfinement to North Brother Island and her eventual acceptance of her life there, where she remained until her death in 1938 at age 69.

Taping Rights: Can be used up to one year after the program is taped off the air.

Teacher's Guide
Most Dangerous Woman in America, The

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