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Headstone dedication held for first Black woman to attend Marquette University Law School

Before the legendary Vel Phillips accomplished her many firsts in the City of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, there was Mabel Watson Raimey.
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Posted at 4:00 PM, Sep 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-20 13:51:14-04

MILWAUKEE — Before the legendary Vel Phillips accomplished her many firsts in the City of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, there was Mabel Emily Watson Raimey.

Born in 1895, she made major contributions to the city including being a charter member of Epsilon Kappa Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Jenelle Elder-Green is the Historian for the Epsilon Kappa Omega Chapter of AKA.

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Mabel Watson Raimey was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the first African American woman to attend Marquette University Law School.

"She was a pioneer in so many ways and we need to be thankful for her. She was the first African American woman to be admitted to the Bar in 1927," said Elder-Green.

Raimey's accomplishments didn't stop there. She was also the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She earned a B.A. in English in 1918 and was the first African American woman to attend Marquette University Law School. There is a marker at 11th and Wisconsin honoring her.

"She was just a true trailblazer," said Debra Brown-Wallace, President of Epsilon Kappa Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

While researching the chapter's history, the women discovered something that didn't sit well with them.

"Went up to the cemetery and when we got there, we found out that she didn't have a headstone and we thought, we just can't let that be, we have to honor her," said Brown-Wallace.

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Mabel Watson Raimey was the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the first African American woman to attend Marquette University Law School.

The Chapter partnered with the Forest Home Preservation Association in order to raise money for the gravestone.

Sara Tomilin, serves as the Assistant Executive Director of the Forest Home Cemetery.

"We are so thrilled to have her be part of this," Tomilin said. "She's always been a part of the cemetery, but now we're able to include her on our tour so that people can have some tangible evidence of the history that she made."

It took about a year and this past weekend a special ceremony was held with the unveiling of that headstone.

"It brought tears to my eyes because it was solemn, it was beautiful," said Brown-Wallace.

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The headstone dedication for Mabel Watson Raimey was at Forest Home Cemetery.

Forest Home Cemetery is the oldest and longest-running cemetery in the state that houses most of the city's founders, beer barons, and industrialists.

"We have the first male attorney that was Black, we also have the first Black judge and the first Black woman to be a part of the Wisconsin legislature, so this is just one more addition to a great history that we have here," said Tomilin.

Raimey's family was one of Milwaukee's first Black families, so her grandparents are also buried at Forest Home. She's also remembered as an original member of the Milwaukee Urban League Board, founder of the Northside YWCA and the Milwaukee Chapter of the National Association of Black Women Attorneys is named in her honor.

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