It’s 1907. Imagine you’re an Irish immigrant cooking for a wealthy family when a man you’ve never seen before shows up, accusing you of spreading death and disease, and asking for samples of your blood, urine, and stool. Mary Mallon did what any woman confronted by a strange man making such an outrageous, indecent-sounding demand would do. She grabbed a nearby carving knife and lunged at him. Luckily, the man, George Soper, escaped unscathed. But for Mary Mallon, who became known as “Typhoid Mary,” it was the start of a nightmare that lasted the rest of her life.
First Chinese American Female Physician and Wartime Celebrity
From the time she was 10 years old, Margaret Chung wanted to become a doctor. But with no dolls or toys to practice on, she resorted to using banana peels to practice her suture technique. Born into a time when the stories of Chinese Americans were those of rejection and exclusion, Margaret Chung learned early on she would need to forge a distinctive path for herself if she were to achieve her dreams.
Born into slavery in 1818 and sold away from her parents as a child, Bridget “Biddy” Mason went from being a slave owner’s wedding present to his new bride to one of Los Angeles’ wealthiest women, and one of the first African American women to buy and own property in the United States.
When Mary Eliza Mahoney graduated in 1879 as America’s first professional nurse, she stood on the shoulders of giants. Jamaica’s Mary Seacole nursed soldiers during the Crimean War; Harriet Tubman and Susie King Taylor tended the Civil War’s wounded; and Namahyoke Sockum Curtis battled typhoid, yellow fever and malaria as a nurse during the Spanish-American War.
Philadelphia-born Anna Coleman Ladd is best known for her neoclassical portrait busts and bronze sculptures of sprites frolicking in public fountains. But her greatest work — and her most important legacy — was restoring the self-respect, honor and dignity to World War I veterans known by the French as “the men with the broken faces.”
We hear a lot about privilege these days. And this Wednesday’s Woman, Lillian Wald, would be the first to tell you she was born into privilege — the daughter of wealthy German-Polish parents whose families fled Europe seeking economic opportunity. She once described herself as a well-educated, frivolous, spoiled socialite. But two pivotal events shaped this frivolous, spoiled socialite into a humanitarian and visionary who dedicated her life to helping others.