Judith Walzer Leavitt's Typhoid Mary Essay

Judith Walzer Leavitt's Typhoid Mary Essay

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Judith Walzer Leavitt's Typhoid Mary details the life of Mary Mallon, one of the first known carriers of the typhoid disease. Leavitt constructs her book by outlining the various perspectives that went into the decisions made concerning Mary Mallon's life. These perspectives help explain why she was cast aside for most of her life and is still a household catchphrase today. Leavitt paints a picture of the relationship between science and society and particularly shows how Mallon was an unfortunate example of how science can be uneven when it is applied to public policy. This paper will focus on the subjectivity of science and its' interaction with social factors which allowed health officials to “lock[ing] up one person in the face of thousands”, and why that one person was “Typhoid Mary” Mary Mallon (Leavitt p. #).
Typhoid Mary was first published in 1996 by Judith Walzer Leavitt. The book centers on the life of Mary Mallon, who was one of the first known typhoid carriers. The story recounts Mary's life in the early 1900's and social and public health issues going on at that point in time. The book tells Mary's story and what others thought of her through seven overlapping perspectives, which are that of medicine, public policy makers, her lawyers, social expectations about her, her representation in the media, her own perspective, and the frequent retellings of her story. Each perspective helps explain the whole picture but also leaves plenty of room for the reader's interpretations.
Whether it the public policy makers perspective, the social perspective, or her own perspective, a central issue is that Mary Mallon was targeted and sent to live in isolation while other known typhoid carriers lived free l...


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...e in mind (Leavit 183). Even other women and other typhoid carriers were known to degrade Mallon. One of the only female physicians, S. Josephine Baker had negative attitudes toward Irish. Also, another known carrier, Alphonse Cotlis said he was not a Typhoid Mary but that he was a “clean man”(Leavitt 162). Cotlis most likely believed he was different from Mallon because she was an Irish woman. Because Mallon was an immigrant, servant, and a woman, she was discriminated and justified as one who needed to be locked up away from regular society. Policy makers used science as an excuse, but several factors besides science went into their decisions. Leavitt makes arguments that these factors are what caused Mary to be the one of thousands to be put to isolation.

Work Cited

Judith Walzer Leavitt. Typhoid Mary: Captive to the Public's Health, Beacon Press,
1996.

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