Born in 1826, Dorothea Genast was the second daughter of Eduard and Christine Genast. The family had a theatre background and in the 1840s Eduard was Director of the Court Theatre in Weimar. The couple had four daughters: Johanna, Dorothea, Antonia ("Toni") and the youngest Emilie, who became a famous singer. There was a son Wilhelm - a dramatist to whose "Bernhard von Weimar" Raff set incidental music. The family tree has more details of her family background.
Always called "Doris" rather than Dorothea, she followed the family tradition and became an actress. Early in 1850, as Raff walked in a park, he saw a "lovely, extremely pale girl" for whom he felt "love at first sight". As an associate of Liszt, Raff knew Eduard Genast but only when he visited him at home did he recognise the mystery girl in the park as Doris. By the end of 1850 he was a regular visitor to the house and in 1853 they were engaged. Raff himself remained virtually penniless and for the time being marriage was out of the question - more so once Doris moved to Wiesbaden later that year to take up an acting post at the Royal Theatre. They corresponded daily until 1856 when Raff finally left Weimar to join her.
His growing reputation in Wiesbaden, his teaching and private tuition income, added to Doris' income from acting finally produced financial security. They married in a private Catholic ceremony on 15 February 1859.
Though Wagner called her "a rather insignificant woman", Doris was evidently an accomplished actress and she continued to perform throughout their time in Wiesbaden until they left for Frankfurt in 1877. Doris assisted their finances by careful budgeting. Wagner reported: "by extraordinary thrift and good management [she] succeeded in raising her husband's position of careless wastefulness to a flourishing and prosperous one". Sometime after Raff's death, she confirmed this to his pupil Edward MacDowell : "I took over the entire practical side of life for my husband".
Her habit was to call her husband simply "Raff" but it was by all accounts a loving and happy marriage. They had only one child - their daughter Helene was born in 1864 and both parents doted on her. Although not deeply musical herself, Doris perhaps personified for Raff the artistic public for whom he wrote. He said that she "embod[ied] the educated section of the public for me". Though she was far from being Wagner's disparaging "the little woman", she did see her role as supporting her genius of a hardworking husband. Helene's biography of her father emphasises that Doris Raff was so able in managing the household finances and other affairs that her husband became more and more detached from anything other than musical matters.
She gave up acting when they moved to Frankfurt in 1877 and settled into the role of wife of the prestigious Director of the Frankfurt Conservatory. Raff's heart attack early in 1882 came as a great shock to her - the more so when his doctor made it clear than he would be unlikely to survive another. She was not with him when the inevitable occurred - she had gone to bed whilst he finished some work and he died alone.
Raff's death in June 1882 marked a sudden change in her fortunes. He had made no provision for her and their daughter's financial security after his death. He had relied on continuing royalties from his music, but it soon became apparent that this would be insufficient and her income dwindled. She was now too old to resume her acting career. With Helene, she gave up her house in Frankfurt and moved to Munich. The swift posthumous decline in Raff's reputation greatly upset her and meant that she had difficulty in interesting publishers in his unpublished catalogue. Helene was a budding artist but it proved a struggle to finance her art. Doris Raff lived on in Munich for another 30 years after her husband's death and died in 1912, aged 86, just as his reputation reached its nadir.