Posted on 08/15/2013

Photo taken on November 1, 1875

See also...

'The Black & White' 'The Black & White'

I ♥ Film I ♥ Film

History in Photos History in Photos

Old Photographs Old Photographs

Genealogy Genealogy

Vintage Family Photographs Vintage Family Photographs

See more...


African American Family
The Mossell Family
Parents: Aaron and Eliza Mossell
Vintage Portrait
Vintage Clothing
A family of many firsts ....
Education, Education, Education
Never giving up

Authorizations, license

Visible by: Everyone
All rights reserved

Photo replaced on August 15, 2013
589 visits

Mossell Family

Mossell Family
Aaron and Eliza Bowers Mossell with five of their children. Left to right: Mary, Alvaretta, Charles, Aaron Albert and Nathan Francis.

Aaron Mossell, was a grandson of slaves, with a great-grandfather known to have been brought from West Africa. His wife Eliza came from a free Black family that had been deported to Trinidad with other such families when she was a child; she and Aaron met after she returned to Baltimore. Aaron's skill as a brickmaker enabled him to purchase a home for his wife, but as racial discrimination increased and the lack of educational opportunities became a roadblock for the aspirations Aaron and Eliza had for themselves and their children, Aaron quit his job and moved to Canada with his wife, two young sons and a daughter. Settling in Hamilton, Ontario in 1853, Aaron attended night school to become literate and used his savings to establish his own brick-making business.

During the Civil War, Aaron Mossell resettled his family, now including six children, in upstate New York. Here he established a successful brick manufacture business, employing laborers of all races and providing bricks for local schools and homes, his African Methodist Episcopal church, and eventually a hotel which he himself owned. Thus it was that Nathan Francis Mossell was born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada on July 27, 1856. The 1870 census shows Aaron, Sr., as a brick layer with of $2000 of real estate and $300 of personal estate, living in Lockport, near Niagara, New York. Aaron's wife Eliza is listed as keeping house. Both Aaron and Eliza are described by the census as having been born in Maryland 46 years earlier.

Since Aaron Mossell, Sr., at first had only enough resources to send his eldest son to college, Nathan's schooling became irregular when he began working in his father's brick yard at age nine. Nathan soon grew to be as strong and tall as most full-grown men; thus it was that, following the death of of his second-oldest brother, Nathan stopped going to school altogether to work full time for his father. In 1871, however, Nathan followed his brother Charles to Lincoln University where he finally had the chance to demonstrate his academic potential. After completing four years of preparatory school in three years, he went on to complete four years in college. At the time of his 1879 graduation from Lincoln with a Bachelor of Arts degree, Nathan Francis Mossell took second honors in his class and was awarded the Bradley Medal in Natural Science.

After graduating from Lincoln University, Nathan Mossell entered the Medical School of the University of Pennsylvania. At Penn he took second honors in his medical school class. After graduating in 1882, he became the most prominent of Penn's first African American students. Upon graduating, Mossell was trained first by Dr. D. Hayes Agnew in the Out-Patient Surgical Clinic of the University Hospital. Because of the difficulties Blacks then encountered in securing internships in this country, Mossell then traveled to England to complete an internship at the Guy's, Queens College and St. Thomas hospitals in London. In 1888, after his return to Philadelphia, Mossell was elected (after overcoming significant opposition on the basis of his race) to membership in the Philadelphia County Medical Society, making him the first African American physician to achieve this honor.

After opening his office a young Dr. Mossell quickly began to have an impact on Philadelphia medical practice and on the position of African Americans in the city and beyond. In August of 1895 he became the leading figure in the founding of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School ... the second Black hospital in the United States, and one that would not only treat African American patients, but also offer interships to Black doctors and nurse training to Black women. Dr. Mossell's former Penn professors (including Agnew, Tyson, Pepper and Leidy) were among the initial contributors, and Eugene T. Hinson, M. D. in 1898, was one of the hospital's African American physicians. Since its establishment of a 15-bed facility in a house at 1512 Lombard Street, Douglass Hospital has had a history of supporting the African American community in Philadelphia.

In 1909, a new building with 75 beds opened at 1534 Lombard Street. In 1948, two years after Mossell's death, Douglass Hospital merged with another predominantly black hospital, Mercy, to create Mercy Douglass Hospital on Woodland Avenue between 50th and 51st Streets in West Philadelphia. This hospital continued its care of African American Philadelphians until its closing in 1973. Mossell worked for over thirty-five years as the hospital's chief-of-staff and medical director, retiring in 1933. He continued his private medical practice, however, until shortly before his death in October of 1946, at the age of ninety.

Mossell's influence was felt in other ways as well. He was a co-founder of the Philadelphia Academy of Medicine and Allied Sciences (an association for African Americans in medicine) in 1900, a founder and director of the Philadelphia branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910, and a member of the Niagara Movement organized by W.E.B. DuBois in 1905. During the 1880s and 1890s Mossell was one of the first to pressure for the hiring of Black professors at his alma mater Lincoln University; from 1891 into the 1940s, he pushed for the integration of Girard College. He also worked with state representative Arthur Faucett to pass a bill banning exclusion of Blacks from university housing at Penn.

Nathan Mossell, had met Philadelphian Gertrude Bustill (b.1855 - d.1948) while both were students at Lincoln University; her return to Philadelphia to teach school there and in Camden was a significant motivation in his decision to attend medical school at the University of Pennsylvania. They were married while he was still a medical student. They had two daughters, Mary and Florence.

After her marriage Gertrude Bustill Mossell worked as a professional writer and editor, publishing several books and working for such Philadelphia papers as the Press, Times and Inquirer. After their children were born, she became active in civic causes, especially fund raising for Douglas Hospital and the establishment of the Southwest branch of the YWCA.

Nathan and Gertrude Mossell were part of remarkable extended families. Her great-grandfather had been a baker for George Washington's army, her grandfather a Hicksite Quaker, and her sister became the mother of singer and actor Paul Robeson. Nathan's older brother Charles studied theology in Boston after leaving Lincoln University, and later became a missionary in Haiti, where he was joined by Alvarilla Mossell, sister of Nathan and Charles. The older sister, Mary, married a teacher in Princeton, New Jersey. Nathan's younger brother Aaron Albert Mossell would be the first African American to graduate from Penn's Law School; although he served for a time as secretary and solicitor of Douglass Hospital and represented Philadelphia Blacks arrested in civil unrest, Aaron left Philadelphia and his family to eventually settle abroad in Wales.

Aaron's daughter (and Nathan's niece) would be Sadie Tanner Mossell, later married to Raymond Alexander. When Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander earned her Ph.D. from Penn in 1921, she become the first African American to obtain a Ph.D. in Economics in the United States. She was also the first African American woman to graduate from Penn's Law School and the first to be admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar.

Photo:Alexander Family Papers/Univ Archives Penn Library
Bio:Pennsylvania Historical Society

Ash Williams, Bédé have particularly liked this photo

6 comments - The latest ones
Marta Wojtkowska
Marta Wojtkowska
Beautiful people, great story!
4 years ago.
~Kicha~ has replied to Marta Wojtkowska
Very inspiring .. thank you!
4 years ago.
Des personnes qui ont fait vraiment avancer l'humanité .
4 years ago.
~Kicha~ has replied to Bédé
So very true!
4 years ago.
Bob Brins
Bob Brins
Wonderful to read this
4 years ago.
~Kicha~ has replied to Bob Brins
A very remarkable family!
4 years ago.