Black History Month: Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell

Holman Biotech Commons highlights the life and accomplishments of Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell, M.D. (1856-1946), the first African American to earn a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Nathan Mossell was born on July 27, 1856, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, to a brickmaker with a successful brickmaking business and a homemaker. Mossell graduated with his bachelors in Natural Science at Lincoln University, a historical black university in Chester County, PA. After graduating, Mossell attended the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine as the first African American accepted into the program and the first to receive a medical degree in 1882. Dr. Mossell studied at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ hospital in London, England. When he returned from London, he discovered the need for healthcare facilities and hospital training for African Americans. On June 25, 1895, Dr. Mossell, several African American doctors, and a small community in Philadelphia created plans for a hospital where African American doctors would have the opportunity to practice and train African American nurses. The hospital was named Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School for Nurses and opened its doors on October 31, 1895, at 1512 Lombard Street. Mossell was the medical director and the hospital’s chief of staff until his retirement in 1933. After he retired from Douglass, Mossell continued to practice medicine until his passing at ninety in 1946. New York Times named Mossell the oldest active African American doctor before his death.


The Mossells family is many of the first at Penn?

Nathan’s brother Aaron Albert Mossell was the first African American to earn a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania. His niece, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, was the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from Penn. Also, he is the uncle of Paul Robeson, a well-known singer, actor and activist for African Americans.

Suggested Readings about Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell:

COBB WM. Nathan Francis Mossell, 1856-1946. J Natl Med Assoc. 1954 Mar;46(2):118-30. PMID: 13143405; PMCID: PMC2617357. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/13143405/

Penn Libraries’ University Archives and Records Center: Nathan Mossell: https://archives.upenn.edu/exhibits/penn-people/biography/nathan-francis-mossell/

Nathan Francis Mossell Autobiography: https://archives.upenn.edu/digitized-resources/docs-pubs/nathan-francis-mossell/nathan-mossell-autobiography/

Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School by Alfred Gordon, M.D., 1930:

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