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Fearing, Maria - Timeline Biography

Time Period

07-26-1838 - 05-23-1937

Description

Maria Fearing emerged from slavery to become a teacher and missionary in the Congo at the age of 56. She founded the Pantops Home for Girls in Luebo, and became part of the first integrated Presbyterian mission in the Congo. Like many of the women missionaries of her day, Maria never married or had children, but she was known as “Mama Wu Mptu” (or Mother From Far Away) to scores of Congolese children, and devoted her life to the service of others.

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Narrative

Maria Fearing was born into slavery in Alabama in 1838. Raised on the Oak Hill Plantation, she was trained as a house girl. Maria spent her early years taking care of children, learning to cook, clean, mend clothing and read the Bible, while hearing missionary stories from her Presbyterian master’s wife, Mrs. Winston.

After being emancipated at the age of 27, shortly after the end of the Civil War, Maria bought her own home (notable for any woman of her time, let alone a Black one). Later, at the age of 33, Maria entered school and, within a few years, became a teacher.

As a teacher, Maria met William Henry Sheppard, a Black missionary who came to give an address about his mission work overseas. Maria was already 56 years old at this point in her life and was rejected by the mission board because of her advanced age. Not letting rejection discourage her, Maria offered to financed her own mission, and the board agreed.

Maria Fearing spent two decades as a missionary teacher and translator in the Congo, working on behalf of the children there, teaching them the same domestic skills and Bible lessons that she was taught in her youth. She founded the Pantops Home for Girls in Luebo, which became a home for more than 40 orphans and a school for young girls whose parents allowed them to come and learn from Maria.

Two years into doing this work, while on furlough due to health concerns, Maria gained funding from the Presbyterian church. Thus, Maria became part of the first integrated Presbyterian mission in the Congo, and was afforded a respect by her missionary peers that she never could have imagined back home.

Maria Fearing retired from the mission field at the age of 78 and taught at a church school in Selma, Alabama until her death in 1937, at the age of 99. Like many of the missionary women of her day, Maria never married and never bore children. But, she was “Mama Wu Mptu” (or Mother From Far Away) to scores of Congolese children, and devoted her life to the service of others.

Religious Groups

Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Other ARDA Links
Presbyterian-Reformed Family: Religious Family Tree

Movements

Missionary Movement
Woman's Missionary Movement

Photographs

Maria Fearing
Maria Fearing
Maria Fearing

Children at Maria Fearing's Pantops School
Children at Maria Fearing's Pantops School
Children of Pantops Children's Home. Courtesy of the Presbyterian Historical Society.

Additional Resources

Maria Fearing - Alabama Women's Hall of Fame
"The faith of Maria Fearing, a slave freed to serve" - Presbyterian Mission

Book/Journal Source(s)

Edmiston, Althea Brown, 1937. Maria Fearing, A Mother To African Girls Committee on Woman's Work, Presbyterian Church, U.S..

Web Page Contributor

Jasmine Holmes
Affliated with: Author and educator

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