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Nathan Francis Mossell's 30-page autobiography

Nathan Francis Mossell left all of his papers to the University of Pennsylvania when he died.  These papers included a 30-page autobiography, which he actually wrote on recycled paper.

Charles Barkley's
Black History Month All Stars

All Star #18: Nathan Francis Mossell

I speak at a lot of schools across the country, and I’ve encountered a trend that drives me freakin’ nuts. I always ask students the following question:

“How many of you want to be a professional athlete or a rapper?”

At inner-city, mostly African American schools, nearly every hand shoots up. When I ask the same question in a white suburban school, maybe 10 percent of hands are raised. I speak to a lot of schools, and this happens without fail.

I tell black kids all the time, “You ain’t gonna be me.” Even if you’re any good on the court, the odds are stacked against you. But I can tell from the blank way they look back at me: They’re putting all their eggs in this totally unlikely basket. But I get why. Young black kids get from the media an unrealistic picture of African American success. Athletes and rappers, with Denzel and Oprah thrown in.

So to mark Black History Month here at The Citizen, I’m going to introduce you every day to my Philadelphia Black History Month All-Stars. Many of them didn’t make it into the history books or even the newspapers of their time. But their stories are inspiring and worth knowing.


Nathan Francis Mossell


Nathan Francis Mossell


(July 27, 1856 – October 27, 1946)

Nathan Francis Mossell was a pioneer physician who established the first black private hospital in Philadelphia, Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, that both treated African Americans and trained black nurses and doctors. Uncle to All Star Sadie Mossell Alexander, he was the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania medical school, and the first to join the Philadelphia County Medical Society. Mossell was also an activist, founding the Philadelphia chapter of the NAACP, and joining W.E.B. DuBois’s Niagara Movement. Mossell left his papers to Penn, including his autobiography in which he writes, “It is plain therefore, that prior to the Civil War, the so-called free colored people had few, if any, rights that the white man felt bound to respect. This mental attitude on his part, so hampered the colored people’s ideas of themselves that it still shrouds their efforts to attain a more inclusive legal franchise for themselves.”


  • Lincoln University B.A., 1879
  • University of Pennsylvania M.D., 1882



  • First African American to earn a medical degree from Penn
  • First African American to join the Philadelphia Medical Society
  • Founded first private black hospital in Philadelphia that would not only treat African Americans but also train and teach black nurses and doctors
  • Fought for the desegregation of Girard College


FINAL WORD: In Mossell’s autobiography, he writes, “One may wonder how a physician can find so much time to champion the cause of his people. I have been no less spared from the indignities of segregation and discrimination than the non-professional colored person. In waging a fight to help free others from the infringements of Jim Crowism, I also help free myself.”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia/University of Pennsylvania, University Archives and Records Center

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