Friday, February 19, 2010

February 19, 1910-Typhoid Mary Mallon gains her (short-lived) freedom

1909 Newspaper Article
Wikimedia Commons

As we near the end of the winter of the Swine Flu we are reminded of another time in history, before vaccines and antibiotics, when the rapid spread of disease struck fear in the hearts of the population of New York.

In the summer of 1906, New York banker Charles Henry Warren took his family on vacation to Oyster Bay Long Island. He rented a summer home from George Thompson and his wife and looked forward to rest and relaxation in one of the most beautiful vacation spots in America. Being quite well of the family could afford to hire their own private cook for the trip and Warren and his wife hired Mary Mallon a 37 year old Irish domestic who had emigrated to the States when she was about fifteen.

On August 27, one of the Warren's daughters became ill with typhoid fever. Soon, Mrs. Warren and two maids became ill; followed by the gardener and another Warren daughter. In total, six of the eleven people in the house came down with typhoid.

Since the common way typhoid spread was through water or food sources, the owners of the home feared they would not be able to rent the property again without first discovering the source of the outbreak. The Thompsons first hired investigators to find the cause, but they were unsuccessful.

Then the Thompsons hired George Soper, a civil engineer with experience in typhoid fever outbreaks. It was Soper who believed the recently hired cook, Mary Mallon, was the cause. Mallon had left the Warren's approximately three weeks after the outbreak. Soper began to research her employment history for more clues.

Soper was able to trace Mallon's employment history back to 1900. He found that typhoid outbreaks had followed Mallon from job to job. From 1900 to 1907, Soper found that Mallon had worked at seven jobs in which 22 people had become ill, including one young girl who died, with typhoid fever shortly after Mallon had come to work for them.

Marry Mallon in North Brother Hospital Bed
Wikimedia Commons

Convinced that Mary was the source of these typhoid cases he approached her to see if she would co-operate and allow for the analysis of a stool specimen. Insulted and probably frightened, Mary refused to co-operate, twice threatening Soper with a knife. Eventually, New York Public Health Officials had to "capture" Mary and take her, against her will, to Willard Parker Hospital.

Tests at the hospital revealed Mary to be the first healthy carrier of typhoid fever in the United States. Upon discovering this the health department transferred Mallon to an isolated cottage (part of the Riverside Hospital) on North Brother Island (in the East River near the Bronx).

Mary was taken against her will and essentially imprisoned because she was a carrier of a disease that could kill others who came into contact with the food she was preparing. The incident created a myriad of moral and ethical questions for the health care professionals in the city at the time. There was a charter in place allowing for the quarantine of sick people but to imprison someone who was healthy seemed wrong.

In 1909, after having been isolated for two years on North Brother Island, Mallon sued the health department. But the judge in the case ruled in favor of the health officials and Mallon, now popularly known as "Typhoid Mary," "was remanded to the custody of the Board of Health of the City of New York." Mallon went back to the isolated cottage on North Brother Island with little hope of being released.

In February of 1910, a new health commissioner decided that Mallon could go free as long as she agreed never to work as a cook again. Anxious to regain her freedom, Mallon accepted the conditions. On February 19, 1910, Mary Mallon signed an affidavit stating that she "is prepared to change her occupation (that of cook), and will give assurance that she will upon her release take such hygienic precautions as will protect those with whom she comes in contact, from infection." She was let free.

In early 1915, twenty-five people became ill with typhoid at the Sloane maternity hospital. When workers noticed a resemblance of a cook, Mary Brown, to earlier photos of Typhoid Mary, it was found that Mary had taken a job as a cook at the hospital breaking her agreement with the Public Health Department.

Mallon was again sent to North Brother Island to live in the same isolated cottage that she had inhabited during her last confinement. For twenty-three more years, Mary Mallon remained imprisoned on the island. She would remain at North Brother until her death from complications of a stroke in 1938. An autopsy showed she still was still a carrier at the time of her death.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

February 13, 1910-ILGWU Strike Ends

Tailor Strikers 1910

In September of 1909, the workers at the Triangle Shirtwaist factory took a vote to determine whether they would continue to participate in a company-sponsored benevolent association or to organize under the United Hebrew Trades, an association of Jewish labor unions. The vote was in favor of organizing under the association, but the workers who had organized the vote were immediately fired by Triangle, and the company began advertising for replacements. In response, the workers at Triangle walked off the job, supported by Local 25 of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) which had called for a strike.

The workers, mostly teenage immigrant girls from the Lower East Side, had had enough by this time. Working in the terrible sweatshop conditions of turn of the century New York, they were no longer going to tolerate 70 hour work weeks, buying their own thread, no washroom breaks and low piece work pay.

The workers began picketing in front of the company, which hired men to help break up the strike. These men, primarily gang members working on behalf of ward bosses of Tammany Hall, disrupted the picket lines, insulting, threatening, and even being physically aggressive towards strikers. New York's police also assisted the company, arresting some of the picketers under various crimes including vagrancy and incitement. After five weeks, in response to concern that the strike might break, an emergency meeting of shirtwaist workers was called at Cooper Union.

Various labor leaders spoke to the crowd, including Samuel Gompers and Meyer London. But it was a newcomer, a woman named Clara Lemlich who called for a general strike of shirtwaist workers. Speaking in Yiddish to a mostly Jewish crowd, Lemlich described the indignities of sweatshop labor, from being insulted by bosses to not having a place to hang a hat. Her speech led to a general strike of shirtwaist workers across New York City, totaling approximately 20,000 strikers. The "Uprising of the 20,000" would be only a small step towards labour reform in the 20th century.

Employers across the industry responded as Triangle had, and within a month more than 700 women had been arrested by police, 19 of whom were sentenced to time in a workhouse. But public opinion turned against the companies. The image of young women being bullied by the police and company guards inspired sympathy, even among New York's upper crust.

The struggle and spirit of the women strikers caught the attention of suffragists. Wealthy progressive women like Anne Morgan (daughter of J.P. Morgan) , Alva Belmont and Inez Milholland (believed that all women—rich and poor—would be treated better if women had the right to vote. Alva saw the labor uprising as an opportunity to move the women strikers’ concerns into a broader feminist struggle. She arranged huge rallies, fund-raising events and even spent nights in court paying the fines for arrested strikers.

Bowing to public pressure, and concerned that the strike would continue through fashion season, the shirtwaist companies agreed in early 1910 to negotiate with the workers. Two weeks after bargaining began, an arbitrated agreement was reached on February 13,1910.

Shirtwaist Strikers 1910

The work week was to be limited to 52 hours, workers were given four holidays with pay, employers were required to supply all tools necessary for the job, and a grievance committee was established to deal with individual issues that came up.

The strike was only partially successful. A number of companies, including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, refused to sign the agreement. But even so, the strike won a number of important gains. It encouraged workers in the industry to take action to improve their conditions, brought public attention to the sweatshop conditions.

Several months later, in 1910, the ILGWU led an even larger strike, later named "The Great Revolt", of 60,000 cloak makers. After months of picketing, prominent members of the Jewish community, mediated between the ILGWU and the Manufacturers Association. It led to the agreement in which the ILGWU won union recognition and higher wages, as well as a rudimentary health benefits program.

Though some measure of progress had been obtained, the movement would not reach its full potential for another year. In March 1911 a fire on the Triangle factory would take 146 lives. Many of the workers would not be trapped in the building because exit doors had been locked to keep out union organizers. Fire ladders which only stretched to the seventh floor could not help the workers trapped on the eighth and ninth floors. Many young women jumped to their deaths.

After the "Uprising of the 20,000" it would still take an enormous tragedy to spur on long overdue labor reform.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

February 10, 1910-Harry K. Thaw appeals to the Supreme Court

Stanford White
Evelyn Nesbitt

Harry Thaw

By the start of 1910 Harry K. Thaw had been an inmate at the Matteawan State Hospital for the Insane at Fishkill, New York for two years. It hadn't been so bad. He had enjoyed virtually complete freedom and was kept apart from the really crazy patients. Was Harry insane? A jury ruled that he had been temporarily insane when he murdered New York architect Stanford White in 1906 in front of 1,000 people, but still many believed it had all been a hoax.

Harry had been born into money in Pittsburgh in 1871. He was the son of coal and railroad millionaire William Thaw. A trouble maker as a child he bounced from private school to private school never distinguishing himself. Still as the son of William Thaw, it was difficult for the University of Pittsburgh to turn him away There he partied, chased women, attended cock fights and became addicted to narcotics. He later used his name and his father's influence to get into Harvard and bragged to friends that he majored in Poker.
After getting kicked out of the Ivy League school Thaw ended up in New York City where he lived off of the family money, visited brothels, attended Broadway shows, went on morphine binges and chatted up chorus girls. One of the most popular shows at the time on Broadway was a musical entitled "Floradora" playing at the Casino theatre at 1404 Broadway, at W. 39th Street. The Floradora girl that caught Thaw's eye was young Evelyn Nesbitt. Nesbitt was the model that Charles Dana Gibson had used in his drawing that started the whole Gibson Girl craze. That drawing, in turn, led to the enormous popularity of the shirtwaist in women's fashions in the first decade of the 1900's.

Nesbitt had also been the focus of White, by this time one of the most famous architects in the country. The designer of Madison Square Garden, the Washington Square Arch and the Shinnecock Hills Country Club Clubhouse, White was the toast of New York society. Harry K. Thaw was a spoiled, unbalanced rich kid from Pittsburgh. And now they were fighting over the same girl.

Eventually, Nesbitt would marry Harry K. Thaw, though most people believed it was because Thaw's mother paid her a huge amount of money to do so. Evelyn would later admit to Harry that Stanford White had earlier stolen her virtue by raping her and forcing to pose on a red velvet swing in White's lavish apartment. Harry became obsessed with the architect still further.
In June of 1906 Thaw and his wife attended a performance of the musical "Mam'zelle Champagne" at the rooftop theatre of Madison Square Garden. White also happened to be in attendance. During the performance of the shows finale-"I Could Love a Million Girls"- Thaw shot White three times at close range killing him. At first members of the audience though that the scene was part of the show.

Thaw was arrested and taken to the Centre Street Station. He was soon charged with murder and placed in the Tombs to await trial. While he was in jail, Thaw had all of his meals catered from Delmonico’s, one of New York’s finest restaurants. He also had whiskey smuggled to him and was allowed to continue playing the stock market, meeting with his broker in jail at all hours of the day and night.

His first trial in 1907 ended in a hung jury. At his second trial in 1908 Thaw's attorneys took the insanity defense to murder to new extremes, successfully arguing that Thaw suffered from "dementia Americana," a condition supposedly unique to American men that caused Thaw to develop an uncontrollable desire to kill White after he learned of White's previous affair with Nesbit. The strategy worked and he was found guilty by reason of insanity and ordered incarcerated at Matteawan.

On February 10, 1910 Thaw's attorneys launched an appeal to the Supreme Court in New York City to have him moved from Matteawan. The appeal failed and Thaw would spend five more years at the asylum. In 1915 a judge would find him sane and he was released.

The judge may have been a little off with his assessment as Thaw was jailed again in 1916. He was arrested for horsewhipping a teenager named Frederick Gump and while Thaw tried to buy off the boy’s family with over a half million dollars, he was still sent back to the mental hospital. He was kept there under tight security until his release in 1922.

Harry continued his high lifestyle of chasing young girls until his death in 1947. He would tell anyone who would listen that he was a theatrical and movie producer. There seems to be no record of anything he ever produced.

Evelyn Nesbitt would , in 1956, become a technical advisor for the Film "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing".

Friday, February 5, 2010

February 5, 1910-Turkey Mike Donlin agrees to return to the Giants-Sort of

1905 New York Giants

Mike Donlin and Mabel Hite

In the cold New York winter of 1910 people would look for anything to get their minds off of the weather and onto thoughts of spring and the baseball season. Even then the city was baseball crazy. Fans were divided between the cities' three major league teams, the Brooklyn Dodgers, The New York Highlanders and the New York Giants.

By 1910 the Giants had already won four National League pennants and one World Series which they won in 1905. They may have won another in 1904 but John McGraw, their feisty manager, was angry with American League President Ban Johnson who had suspended McGraw during his playing days.

The following year after realizing how much money he had cost his players by not playing the '04 series McGraw agreed to play and the Giants won.

This was before other professional sports like hockey ,football and basketball would come on the scene and give the New York sports fan something to occupy his time during the winter months. He would have to be happy thinking about and reading about baseball in one of the cities' 14 newspapers. Anything to do with the upcoming season would be huge news.

On February 5, 1910 Giants owner John T. Brush announced that outfielder Turkey Mike Donlin had entered into a tentative agreement and would be returning to the Giants after sitting out the previous year. Giants fans were jubilant.

You see, most people believed that Donlin was lost to the club and the game for good. Turkey Mike sat out the 1909 season over a contract dispute with Brush. Today, the amount money a player would give up by sitting out a year would lead to an agreement eventually being struck. But back in the day Mike Donlin had found that he could make more money on the vaudeville circuit than he could playing baseball.

After breaking in with the St. Louis Perfectos in 1899 Donlin had become a star. But Mike liked to drink a bit. The Perfectos, Orioles the Reds released him after alcohol related troubles. In the middle of the 1904 season he landed with the Giants and his career resurrected. He was a leader on the Giants club that won the pennant and missed the series in '04 and the one that went to the series and won in '05.

But he would also meet and marry Broadway and Vaudeville star Mabel Hite. He joined Hite's touring vaudeville tour. Other athletes had been successful in vaudeville. Christy Mathewson, Jack Johnson and Giants manager would simply go on stage and be themselves. They would tell jokes, read Shakespeare and generally be a way to draw audiences.

Donlin did this for a while but soon convinced himself he was more than just a token ball player whose name they could post on the marquis. So, much like Joe Namath and Shaquille O'Neill would do many years later, Mike set out to be a full blown thespian.

On October 26, 1908, Donlin made his stage debut in Stealing Home, a one-act play written by Donlin and Hite. Although the reviews for Donlin were mixed, critics raved over his wife's performance and the show became a smash hit. Claiming he made more money from his play, Donlin left baseball and vowed never to return.

The play ran for three successful years and was so successful that Mike never did make it back for 1910 season. The play eventually closed and Mabel was unable to land another role. Mike had to go back to baseball. But after two years off by 1911 his talents had severely disintegrated and the Giants shipped him off to Boston Rustlers after only 12 games.

After Mike finished with baseball became pals with legendary actor John Barrymore who was able to score Turkey Mike roles in numerous silent films.

He would finish his career with a .333 batting average and have three seasons in which he would score more than 100 runs. He would hit 51 home runs in the 13 years he played, prolific in the dead ball era.

Turkey Mike Donlin was one of the quirky cast of characters that made up baseball in the early 1900's. The news that he was tentatively returning to the beloved Giants was enough to brighten a cold February day.