Born Mary Wolf Wilkinson in Brooklyn, New York, the daughter of Mary Agnes (née Wolf; 1886-1976) and Harry Rockefellow Wilkinson. She grew up in Madison, New Jersey, graduating from Madison High School, she then studied Fine art at the Art Students League in New York.
Streep trained as a fine artist and became the art-editor for Home Furnishings Magazine and also did commercial artwork on an freelance basis. Mary had an art studio in the back of her home. She married Harry William Streep Jr, a pharmaceutical company executive. They had two sons: Dana Streep and Harry William Streep III (husband of actress Maeve Kinkead), and a daughter, Mary Louise "Meryl" Streep. She is also the grandmother of Streep's daughters, actresses Grace Gummer and Mamie Gummer. Her daughter's husband, Don Gummer is also an artist, a sculptor.
Her daughter Meryl Streep has often stated in interviews that her mother has been the inspiration for some her characters she has played on the screen. Mary enrolled her daughter in voice lessons at the age of twelve after noticing her daughter's need to perform.
Streep died at Cornell Medical Center from complications of heart disease after a short illness. Her husband died two years later on July 22, 2003, aged 92. They were residents of Mason's Island, Connecticut.