Gertrude Emily Mossell was an activist, author, teacher, and highly-respected journalist.
Mossell was born Gertrude Emily Bustill in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 3, 1855, to Emily Robinson and Charles Hicks Bustill. Born into a prominent African-American family, her great-grandfather, Cyrus Bustill, served in George Washington’s troops as a baker. After the American Revolution, he maintained a successful bakery in Philadelphia and co-founded the first black mutual-aid society in America, the Free African Society.
Mossell’s father encouraged her to get a good education. She attended public school in Philadelphia, at the Institute for Colored Youth and the Robert Vaux Grammar School. Upon graduation, she was asked to deliver a graduation speech. The speech, entitled “Influence,” was so impressive Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, editor of the African Methodist Episcopal newspaper, The Christian Recorder invited Mossell to contribute poetry and essays to his newspapers.
After completing grammar school, Bustill taught school for several years in Philadelphia as well as New Jersey. During her time teaching, she found her voice for journalism and began writing for several newspapers and magazines, including the A.M.E. Church Review and The Philadelphia Times. Though she wrote for both black and white publications throughout her career, Mossell’s articles often focused on issues particular to black women.
Mossell was married to a prominent physician, Nathan Francis. The couple had two daughters, two other children had died during infancy.
In 1902, she wrote a children’s Sunday school book titled Little Dansie’s One Day at Sabbath School. Mossell was also deeply engaged in civic work. She led the fundraising drive for the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, which opened in 1895. Mossell died on January 21, 1948, at the age of 92.
The Work of African American Women