McRae was a teacher and a missionary of the Presbyterian Church and is remembered by the name of her second husband, Alexander McRae of Wilmington, who died in 1881. One of her causes was organizing missionary societies for women, but many ministers opposed her. Another group who opposed her was the infamous Lowrie gang, outlaws who terrorized the region, but she stood them down. Her second cause was education, and in 1898 she went to the remote mountains around Banner Elk. The school she started was called McRae Institute. Mrs. S. P. Lees became interested and gave generously. In 1907 the school became Lees-McRae Institute, and later Lee-McRae College.