Fearing, born a slave near Gainesville, AL, completed the ninth grade, learning to read and write at age 33. As a house servant, she spent much of her time with her mistress and the other children. Mrs. Amanda Winston taught her children and young Maria the Presbyterian catechism and told them Bible stories and tales about missionaries in Africa. These stories about Africa left a deep impression on Fearing.
She worked her way through the Freedman’s Bureau School in Talladega to become a teacher. At age 56 she went to the Congo, where for more than 20 years she worked as a Presbyterian missionary and eventually established the Pantops Home for Girls in 1915. She taught in the mission day school and Sunday school and worked with women in surrounding villages. Her students nicknamed her “mama wa mputu” (mother from far away) as to reflect their love and appreciation. At the age of 78, Fearing was encouraged to retire.
In 1918, she received the Loving Cup, a honor bestowed on her by the Southern Presbyterian Church. After returning to Alabama, Fearing taught at a church school in Selma, and later returned to Sumter County, where she died on May 23, 1937 at the age of 99. Maria Fearing was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.