A Philadelphia Story the Lost Legacy of Dr. Nathan Mossell He Was the First Black Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania, a Medical Pioneer Who Fought White Bigotry and Black Self-Defeatism. as He Feared, His Achievements Became a Casualty of His Principles

By Heilbrunn, Evi | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), April 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

A Philadelphia Story the Lost Legacy of Dr. Nathan Mossell He Was the First Black Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania, a Medical Pioneer Who Fought White Bigotry and Black Self-Defeatism. as He Feared, His Achievements Became a Casualty of His Principles


Heilbrunn, Evi, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


On May 4, 1934, the Pittsburgh Courier -- the most widely circulated African-American newspaper in America -- published a letter from a black doctor in Philadelphia. The surgeon thought that "readers would appreciate the inscription on the tomb" of Thaddeus Stevens, the Pennsylvania congressman and Radical Republican who viewed "his whole life [as] a struggle to guarantee an equal deal to all men."

With his letter, Dr. Nathan Mossell wished to reveal -- more than 60 years after Stevens' death -- that the legacy of the staunch white abolitionist had amounted to nothing more than a "neglected" tomb.

Yet as he reflected upon the lost legacy of a man who had so valiantly defended civil liberties, Dr. Mossell wrote to the Courier with his own life in mind. Would "the little cemetery in which his remains repose" become "grown up in weeds" with "its fences dilapidated," too?

* * *

In 1882, Dr. Mossell became the first African-American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, the oldest medical training program in America and indeed, one of its most prestigious universities. His academic successes at Penn blazed a trail for a future class of black clinicians and scholars who would have otherwise been denied the opportunity to learn at such an elite institution.

Yet this was a small victory for African-American professionals during the late 19th century. It was arguably the most extreme period of racism ever witnessed in this country, what many historians describe as the "nadir" for African-Americans.

The late 19th century was a difficult time for qualified physicians, black and white alike. Without standards for medical education, ways of healing the body largely depended upon the choices and fears of those who sought cures.

As medical historian Roy Porter has explained, the era remained a medical marketplace, in which priests, quacks, homeopaths and physicians with Ivy League degrees competed for patients. With such choice in how to resolve ailments, the period gave rise to a self- help approach that required individuals to take responsibility for the maintenance of their own bodies. As citizens tried to preserve their health, they oftentimes bought into the promises advertised by mail-order medicines and treatments. The use of certain creams, ointments and syrups would surely help them to feel and look better.

Other messages were deeply and darkly threaded into the core of the rising health movement. Dating back to Thomas Jefferson's theories about the inferiority of the black body, many Americans continued to view black and white bodies as fundamentally different into the Reconstruction period.

Myths about the inherent danger of the black body to white people also infiltrated medical science. Theories about disease transmission became a means of reinforcing these social stigmas. Fears about black contagiousness instigated federal intervention into public health in the aftermath of the Civil War. The Freedman's Bureau was designed to help the newly free blacks, but it largely failed to provide adequate health care. By the time Dr. Mossell began his undergraduate training at Lincoln University, the all- black university in eastern Pennsylvania, all but one of the Bureau hospitals had closed.

With Penn diploma in hand, Dr. Mossell joined only a handful of black physicians practicing in Philadelphia by the mid-1880s. The city's white hospitals refused to entertain admitting privileges for black doctors. With no private black hospital in the city -- or in the country for that matter -- black physicians were forced into private practice.

Dr. Mossell was fortunate to have found several strong-willed and liberal-minded mentors at Penn. Through the help of a Penn professor of surgery, Dr. D. Hayes Agnew, Dr. Mossell was able to secure a post-graduate internship at the university's hospital. When he met with some resistance upon seeking admission to the Philadelphia County Medical Society, the dean of the Penn Medical School, Dr.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Philadelphia Story the Lost Legacy of Dr. Nathan Mossell He Was the First Black Doctor from the University of Pennsylvania, a Medical Pioneer Who Fought White Bigotry and Black Self-Defeatism. as He Feared, His Achievements Became a Casualty of His Principles
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.