Gertrude Bustill Mossell


Biographical Database of Black Woman Suffragists
Biographical Sketch of Gertrude E.H. Bustill Mossell, 1855-1948

Natalie Hogue, Lindsie Liles,
Undergraduates, University of Michigan Dearborn

Gertrude Bustill was born on July 3, 1855 in Philadelphia to Charles Hicks Bustill and Emily Robinson Bustill. The Bustill family was one of the most prominent African American families in Philadelphia. Her great-grandfather, Cyrus Bustill, opened his own bakery in Philadelphia after serving as a baker for the troops fighting in the War of Independence. Bustill’s family also included several abolitionists who had helped run the Underground Railroad. From this lineage, Gertrude inherited both status and an activist tradition.

Bustill’s mother passed away at a young age leaving her and her sister to find comfort in books. The widowed Charles was busy with abolition work but provided his two daughters with the best education he could afford. She was educated first at the Institute for Colored Youth and later graduated from the Robert Vaux Grammar school. Her graduation speech, “Influence,” caught the attention of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, who published it in his national newspaper, The Christian Recorder.

After graduation, Bustill worked for seven years in public schools in Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey. During this time she also wrote for two African American newspapers, Philadelphia Echo and Philadelphia Independent.

In 1883, Bustill married Nathan F. Mossell, the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania’s Medical School and a leading African-American physician in the Philadelphia area. As was traditional at the time, Gertrude Bustill Mossell focused primarily on her husband and two children. This break from journalism would not last long when in 1885 she became the woman’s editor of The New York Freeman where she wrote a weekly column called “Our Woman’s Department.” It was the first woman’s column in the history of the African-American press. Now known as Mrs. N. F. Mossell, she used her column to educate on how to care for a household and also to advocate for civil rights and influence her followers of the necessity of political involvement. Bustill Mossell believed that journalism was the voice that African Americans and women needed to educate a larger audience on equality. She quickly made a name for herself, becoming the highest paid black newspaperwoman of the late 18th century, earning $500 a year. This was at a time when female journalists were rare, much less a woman of color.

Gertrude Bustill Mossell left The New York Freeman, now The New York Age, and went on to write for a number of other local and national papers including Indianapolis World, Woman’s Era, AME Church Review, Our Women and Children, and many others. Her first book was published in 1894. The Work of the Afro-American Woman was a collection of essays and poems written by African-American women and acknowledging women of her race from a variety of fields for their achievements.


In the late nineteenth century, there were very few places where women and men of color could receive health care or practice nursing and medicine. In response to this problem, the year after her book was published, Gertrude Bustill Mossell and her husband opened the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital in Philadelphia. The hospital took her away from her journalism but allowed her to continue focusing on civic work to uplift her race. In 1895, Bustill Mossell raised $30,000 to build the main building. She left a legacy of education, empowerment and advocacy behind for other African American women to follow. Bustill Mossell passed away on January 21st, 1948 in the hospital she and her husband built.


Guy-Sheftall, Beverly ed. Words of Fire: An Anthology of African American Feminist Thought. New York: The New Press, 1995.

Smith, Anna Bustill. “The Bustill Family.” Journal of Negro History. Vol. 10, No. 4 (Oct., 1925), pp. 638-44

Streitmatter, Roger. “Gertrude Bustill Mossell: Guiding voice for newly freed blacks,” The Howard Journal of Communications, Vol, 4, No, 4 (Summer 1993): 317-28.

Terborg-Penn, Rosalyn. "Mossell, Gertrude E. H. Bustill (1855-1948)". Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 820–21.


Links to Additional Biographical Sketches

Monroe Majors, Noted Negro Women
Women of Distinction
Who's Who of the Colored Race


Related Writings in Database

View works by

View works about

Link to Scholarly Essay

Gertrude Emily Hicks Bustill Mossell: Her Heritage, Her Impact, and Her Legacy by Francille Rusan Wilson

back to top