“She walked More Like a Man than a Woman”

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“Is sickness or carrying disease one of the situations in which most Americans can accept depriving people of their liberty?” This question posed by Judith Walzer Leavitt in her introduction serves as a basis for her underlying argument throughout the book. For my chapter I’ve chosen to read, “She Walked More Like a Man than a Woman”, which reviews how Mary Mallon was categorized based on social stigmas. The prejudice of her race and the social expectations of a woman played a critical role in the ultimate decision of how to handle the case of Mary Mallon.

John Marsh brings up an interesting point when considering the isolation of Mary Mallon as a disaster and comparing that to the pitfalls of the Gilded Age. As John points to the infallibility of science, it can also be directed at the people who were involved in the Public Health Services, notably George Soper. As an upper level official he strongly believed in the dangers of carriers of typhoid (more specifically women) and was destine to search for the answer. His high status in society compared with Mary Mallon’s lower-class immigrant status provided a critical disconnect that made Soper unable to relate to Mary and vice versa. This disconnect served as a major contributor to the lack of sentiment Soper felt for Mary, and was a factor in her ultimate sentence.

It is true that women during the Gilded Age  were stuck in a domestic role and their opportunities for jobs were limited. Mary Mallon epitomized this dilemma because she  worked as a chef for higher class families. Soper targeted her as a carless woman and blamed working class women domestics for spreading the bacteria. The way that George Soper depicted Mary Mallon served as both an understanding as to why she was unjustly isolated in the first place in accordance with basic prejudices during this time.

As a single Irish female over the age of 40, these added up for the perfect combination to discard Mary Mallon from society. I want to briefly question the argument that Leavitt adds toward the end of this chapter. While Leavitt goes on to give more examples of Soper’s judgment of Mary, she concludes her argument by trying to compare German-born Frederick Moersch to Mary’s case. Leavitt loses some strength in her argument because she tries to overstretch a comparison that I feel is unnecessary to her initial arguments. Leavitt speculates many factors in the case of Moersch that she was unable to find factual backing for.

I look forward to discussing other thoughts on comparing Mary’s case to those of the opposite sex, and if others found her comparison helpful or hindrance on Leavitt’s objective to prove how gender, race and class lead to Mary’s ultimate isolation.