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Sun, 07.27.1856

Nathan Mossell, Physician born

Nathan Mossell

Nathan Mossell was born on this date in 1856. He was a Black Canadian physician.

Nathan Francis Mossell was born in Hamilton, Canada, the fourth of six children. Both his parents, Eliza Bowers and Aaron Albert Mossell, were descended from freed slaves.  According to Mossell's autobiography, his mother's stories of their families' discrimination and hardship strengthened her children's determination to succeed.

His maternal grandfather had resisted all attempts by his owner to make him work and was eventually freed. He married and settled in Baltimore, but the entire family, including Mossell's mother, who was a child then, were deported to Trinidad. Mossell's paternal grandfather, who had been transported from West Africa, managed to buy his freedom and his wife's. He, too, settled in Baltimore, where Mossell's father was born.

Mossell's parents met and married in Baltimore after his mother's family returned from Trinidad. His father learned the brick-making trade and saved enough money to buy a house. After the birth of their third child, the couple decided to move to Canada, as free Blacks were prohibited from being educated in Maryland, and they wanted education for their children. They sold their house in Baltimore and settled in Hamilton, Ontario. His father bought a tract of clay-bearing land and set up his brickworks.

Young Mossell had shown academic promise at Lincoln University, where he won the Bradley Medal in Natural Science.  Lincoln awarded Mossell its Bachelor of Arts degree in 1879.  He received the Doctor of Medicine degree in 1882 at Penn, where he took second honors in his class. After graduation, he was trained by Dr. D. Hayes Agnew in the Out-Patient Surgical Clinic of the University Hospital.

Mossell's post-graduate studies included internships in the Guy's, Queens College, and St. Thomas hospitals in London. In 1888 he was elected to membership in the Philadelphia County Medical Society, the first Black physician to be so honored. In August 1895, he was the leading figure in founding the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School. He served as chief-of-staff and medical director there until his retirement in 1933.

Though Nathan Mossell died in 1946, in 1948, Douglass Hospital merged with another predominantly Black hospital, Mercy. In 1955, the new Mercy-Douglass Hospital building opened on Woodland Avenue, between 50th and 51st Streets in West Philadelphia. There it offered healthcare services to another generation of Black Philadelphia citizens before closing in 1973.

To become a Doctor


Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century.
Edited by Leon Litwack and August Meier
Copyright 1998, the University of Illinois Press
ISBN 0-252-06213-2

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