Nadezhda von Meck began life as Nadezhda Filaretovna Frolovskaya, in a family which owned great landed estates. Her father, Filaret Frolovsky, embraced his love of music from an early age, while from her mother, Anastasia Dimitryevna Potemkina, she learned energy, determination, and business acumen.
In her youth a serious student of music, Nadezhda Filaretovna became a capable pianist with a good knowledge of the classical repertoire. She also mastered some foreign languages, learned to appreciate the visual arts, and read widely in literature and history, and philosophy, especially the work of Arthur Schopenhauer and the Russian idealist Vladimir Solovyov.
At seventeen, Nadezhda Filaretovna was married to Karl Otto Georg von Meck, a 27-year-old engineer and the son of Major Otto Adam von Meck by his marriage to Wilhelmine Hafferberg – Baltic Germans from Riga. Together they had thirteen children, of whom eleven survived to adulthood.
As a government official, Karl von Meck's life was uneventful, and his work was poorly paid. With several children quickly added to his responsibilities, however, he was reluctant to make a break with a steady post.
Nadezhda von Meck saw things very differently. To her, filling the roles of mother, nurse, governess, dressmaker, housekeeper, and valet was far easier to bear than the humiliation of seeing her husband as a cog in the machine of a government organization. Neither did fulfilling all those domestic duties lower her resolve or weaken her energy in urging him to make a break. Russia, desperately short of railways, was expanding its communications network rapidly, and Nadezhda was far-sighted enough to see that a future for her husband lay there. She continually exerted pressure on him to find a partner with capital and to join the boom in Russian railway construction.