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Medicine and politics may seem strange bedfellows


Bert Riggs,

(an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University),
whose column, A Backward Glance
appears in the Telegram each Tuesday

Transcribed From the Telegram

By: Barbara McGrath



Medicine and politics may seem strange bedfellows, but there is a long tradition of medical doctors entering the political fray. Dr. William Carson was one of the leaders of the Newfoundland reform movement of the 1820s, which resulted in the granting of Representative Government and an elected legislature to Newfoundland in 1832. Since then, several other medical men have served in the House of Assembly. One of them is Harris Munden Mosdell.

Born in Bay Roberts on June 27, 1883, Mosdell was the son of Thomas Mosdell and Susan Munden. He received his early education at the Church of England Academy in Bay Roberts.

Began as teacher

At the age of 17, like many young Newfoundlanders who were able to complete high school, he embarked on a teaching career.

For the next five years he taught in several Newfoundland communities. He left teaching in 1905 to found a newspaper, The Bay Roberts Outlook.

Two years later, he entered the University of Toronto, graduating in 1911 with an honours baccalaureate degree in medicine.

Returning to Newfoundland, he spent two years practising at Woody Point, Bonne Bay, before becoming infected with the political bug that would influence much of the rest of his life.

Mosdell became a Liberal candidate in the Harbour Grace district in the 1913 general election.

Even though he finished last in a field of six for the three-member district, he was only 173 votes behind the candidate who won the third seat, out of more than 2,500 ballots cast.

This defeat was certainly not enough to dampen his enthusiasm for politics.

Rather than resume his medical practice, Mosdell returned to journalism. He became editor of a new paper, The Daily Mail, established by the Fishermen's Protective Union (FPU) on Jan. 1, 1914.

When that paper was incorporated into the Fisherman's Advocate on May 1, Mosdell, in company with Richard Squires, founded The Daily Star.

Served as editor

Mosdell served as editor of The Daily Star until 1920. It was often referred to as the Squires paper, as it championed his political platform, especially after he took over the Liberal Party in 1919. Mosdell is credited with helping to bring about the alliance between Squires and FPU president William Coaker, establishing the Liberal-Unionist coalition, which won the 1919 election and made Squires prime minister.

One of his rewards was a seat in the Legislative Council, to which he was appointed by Squires in 1922. The following year, he became editor of a reconstituted Daily Mail, established to support Squires in his bid for re-election in that year's May 3 general election.

It was steadfast in its support of Squires in the subsequent fallout following his forced resignation, amid charges of corruption, in July. It ceased publication in September 1924.

In addition to his seat on the Legislative Council, Mosdell spent the early years of the 1920s heavily involved in public service: as a member of the board of governors of the St. John's General Hospital; secretary of the Royal Commission for Tariff Revision; and as a member of the Board of Pensions Commissioners.

After the fall of the Warren administration, which had succeeded Squires in July 1923, in May 1924, A.E. Hickman became Liberal Party leader and prime minister. Mosdell was invited to join his cabinet as a minister without portfolio.

His tenure was short-lived, as the Liberals lost the general election the following month.

Mosdell remained on the Legislative Council until 1926, when he resigned to contest a byelection in Fortune Bay. He was successful and joined the Liberals in opposition.

He was one of the group of nine Liberal members who announced they would no longer support Hickman as Liberal Party leader, thereby clearing the way for Squires' return.

Squires led the Liberal Party to victory in the Oct. 29, 1928 general election.

Mosdell was re-elected in Fortune Bay and entered Squires' cabinet as minister without portfolio and chairman of the board of health. He was also appointed chairman of a Royal Commission on Public Health and Public Charities.

After years as one of Squires' most loyal supporters, Mosdell broke with his leader on March 27, 1932, resigning from cabinet and the Liberal Party.

He retained his seat, as an independent, by acclamation in the June 11 election, but later in the year accepted an invitation from Conservative Prime Minister Frederick Alderdice to become minister of public health and welfare.

With the advent of Commission of Government in February 1934, he became secretary for public health and welfare, the equivalent of deputy minister, a position he held for over 10 years.

Implemented reforms

In this position, he was able to implement many of the recommendations of his own royal commission report, including the cottage hospital construction program for rural Newfoundland.

In addition to his journalistic, medical and political careers, Mosdell also compiled and published several fact and guide books about Newfoundland, the best known of which is When Was That? (1923).

It contains dates for thousands of Newfoundland people, places and events and continues to be a valuable ready reference source.

In the midst of this turbulent decade, Mosdell completed studies at the University of Toronto for a doctorate in medicine, graduating in 1930.

Mosdell married Bessie Mundy in 1911. They were the parents of two children, Bryant and Margaret. A true master of many endeavours, Mosdell died at St. John's on April 30, 1944.

Bert Riggs is an archivist with the Centre for Newfoundland Studies at Memorial University of Newfoundland ...



This page transcribed by Barbara McGrath (October 2000)
REVISED: 24 May 2002 (Terry Piercey)

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