This is part of an ongoing Washington Informer series about the Women’s Suffrage Movement and an initiative that includes Informer Publisher Denise Rolark Barnes that will use the lens of history, the fabric of art and culture and the venue of the public square to shine a light into dark places, equipping all with a compass to chart the way forward. The initiative lives in the institutional home of the Washington Informer Charities.
Gertrude Mossell, who hailed from a prominent Philadelphia family of free Black reformers, helped to call attention to the plight of women suffragettes in an article for The New York Freeman, the premiere African American newspaper in the nation.
She wrote of her belief that intemperance is the greatest hindrance to the Black community, and she aimed her dissertations at fellow African Americans using the Black Press.
Mossell titled her first article, “Woman Suffrage,” in which she implored women to read suffrage history and news articles about women’s rights.
Historians noted that Mossell’s pro-suffrage dissertations were similar to other Black suffragists of her era. Mainly, they said, Mossell called for a constitutional amendment to enfranchise women.
“As a professional writer and affluent mother of two, she could relate to the middle-class views of housewives who were feminists,” said historians at Turning Point Suffragist Memorial, an online homage to women of the suffrage movement.
Born July 3, 1855, in Philadelphia, Mossell worked as a teacher and then as a journalist. While she started writing for Black-owned newspapers that included the Indianapolis Freeman, the Philadelphia Echo, and The Richmond Rankin Institute, Mossell also wrote for Ladies Home Journal, the Philadelphia Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Press — all white-owned publications.
When Mossell wrote The Woman’s Department, a column for The New York Freeman, it was the first woman’s column published in Black-owned publications. She and her editors used the column to advocate for equal rights for women.
However, her activism didn’t just include women. She strongly pushed the idea that newsboys should be used to distribute papers in African American neighborhoods, and she suggested the establishment of a Black newspaper syndicate similar to the Associated Press.
In 1919, Mossell founded The Associated Negro Press.
“I want to acknowledge African American journalists Ida B. Wells, Ethel L. Payne, and Gertrude Bustill Mossell, who served as a guiding voice to the African American community,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.). “Without these women, much of our history would have gone unknown.”
Author Jackie Azúa Kramer, tweeted a salute this week to Mossell to kick off Women’s History Month.
“Let’s remember the lives of Black suffragettes Gertrude Bustill Mossell and Verina Morton Jones, who were fighting for the vote, gender and racial equality, long before Martin Luther King Jr., was born,” Kramer wrote on Twitter.
Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Hughes also honored Mossell, who died Jan. 21, 1948, in the City of Brotherly Love.
“Pennsylvania is incredibly fortunate to have been home to so many important figures in women’s suffrage,” Hughes said, mentioning six Black women, including Mossell.