By Karen Stokes
The Epsilon Kappa Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA), Inc., honor soror Mabel Watson Raimey. The sorority held a private memorial and headstone dedication on Saturday, September 17, in the Landmark Chapel at Forest Home Cemetery & Arboretum.
“The project started during the pandemic,” said Debra Brown-Wallace, President, Epsilon Kappa Omega Chapter. “Charter members were researched and they came across Mabel Raimey and found she didn’t have a headstone so we got the ball rolling with fundraisers.”
Mabel Watson Raimey was born on December 12, 1895 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and experienced a variety of “firsts” in her life.
Her parents Nellie and Anthony Raimey were free people of color, along with their ancestors. For that reason, the Raimeys had been able to settle in Milwaukee in the 1840s. They were among the first African American families in the city.
Mabel was the first African American woman to earn a bachelor’s degree from UW–Madison. Raimey was also the first African American woman to attend Marquette University Law School.
In 1927, she became the first African American woman to practice law in Wisconsin. For context, the next African American woman to enter the Wisconsin Bar was Vel Phillips and that didn’t happen until 1951.
Raimey had light skin due to several of her ancestors being white, people often assumed that she was a white woman.
After she earned her bachelor’s degree, she was hired to teach in the Milwaukee public school district, but after only three days she was fired because her employer found out she was African American.
That did not stop Raimey. She chartered the Epsilon Kappa Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority in Milwaukee in 1949. She also helped start the Northside YWCA (now known as the Vel Phillips Center), and she was a board member for the Milwaukee Urban League, where she served for 25 years.
“She had a major stroke in 1972 and had to stop practicing law,” said Brown-Wallace. “She died on December 1, 1986, of complications from pneumonia.”
A historical marker honoring Raimey also stands outside Sensenbrenner Hall on Wisconsin Avenue at Marquette University.