Mary Meachum image

What did Mary Meachum look like?

There's no way of knowing!

There is no factual record of Mary Meachum’s likeness or image anywhere. While drawings exist of her husband, John Berry Meachum, no known description, likeness or image has ever surfaced to date of Mary herself.

Then who is this?

This image, catalogued in the Library of Congress, was a photograph taken by W. E. B. DuBois in 1899 or 1900 and it was in an exhibit of portraits of African Americans in Georgia exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1900. This is not (and could not be) Mary Meachum.

Once when the Mary Meachum Freedom Crossing Celebration event here in St. Louis was about the World’s Fair, we used some of these historical images in a collage for the event. Someone (not sure who) must have mistaken this for Mary Meachum and spread it around online.

So if you see this image somewhere, please help correct the facts!



Reverend John Berry Meachum grew up enslaved in Virginia and Kentucky before earning enough money to purchase his freedom. John followed his first wife to St. Louis where he bought her freedom. Later, he married Mary, a free born Black woman, and eventually established the First African Baptist Church, the first Black congregation in St. Louis.

As part of Reverend Meachum’s church, he established a school for free and enslaved black students called the “The Candle Tallow School.” The Meachums’ home on Fourth Street in St. Louis was a safe house on the Underground Railroad. From there, they helped enslaved people escape to Illinois – a Free State, where slavery was outlawed. Their work involved considerable risk due to the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 – a law authorizing the hunting and capture of escaped enslaved people and requirement that they be returned to their enslavers. After John’s death in 1854, Mary Meachum continued their work educating and freeing enslaved people.