Maria Fearing was born in 1838. She was enslaved as a house servant in Alabama. In 1871, Maria completed the ninth grade, learning to read and write. at age 33. The mistress of the house where she served often told Maria and her children stories about missionaries in Africa which 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. 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.
In 1918, Maria received the Loving Cup, an honor bestowed on her by the Southern Presbyterian Church. Maria Fearing was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame in 2000.