What Melinda Gates' Life Was Like Before She Married Bill

It's safe to say that the world was genuinely shocked when Bill and Melinda Gates announced that their marriage was coming to an end. The two seemed to be such a harmonious pair, working side-by-side to spread their insane amount of money around the world. He is the co-founder of Microsoft, while she is the computer scientist who pushed him into the world of philanthropy — they seemed like the perfect match.

But, of course, what things look like from the outside is rarely the reality to those on the inside. In their joint statement posted on Twitter, Bill and Melinda asserted that they "no longer believe[d]" that they could grow as a couple — to put it simply, they had reached the end of the line. Of course, so many of us know Melinda as the name that follows Bill — it's Bill and Melinda Gates, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. But who is the philanthropist, computer scientist, and humanitarian we know as Melinda Gates? How will she define herself outside of her decades-long, highly-influential relationship?

To answer those questions, we have to take it all the way back to the beginning. This is what Melinda Gates' life was like before she married Bill.

Melinda Gates was born to a working dad and a stay-at-home mom

The general mentality is that you have to be born into money to be rich throughout your life, and that seemingly is how it's done in the world, but Melinda Gates had a pretty normal upbringing. As noted by Biography, Gates was born in Dallas, Texas in August of 1964 and was one of four children — she had one older sister and two younger brothers. Her father, Ray French, worked as an aerospace engineer (no wonder his daughter was interested in STEM), and her mother, Elaine French, worked as a stay-at-home mom (anyone who tells you that being a mom isn't work can kindly show themselves to the door).

Within his line of work, Ray worked on the Apollo mission, and Gates spent her childhood (naturally) watching NASA rocket launches — talk about an experience to be inspired by (via the Los Angeles Times). An in-depth profile on Gates in The Seattle Times reported that by Gates' own admittance, her childhood was normal and that her parents were "loving and supportive." "I had parents who told me every step of the way, 'You can get what you want,'" she said.

Melinda Gates' early life and education were heavily influenced by her mom's own experiences

A lot of parents approach their parenting tactics based on their own experiences as children, and Melinda Gates' parents were no exception. As noted by Biography, Gates' mother, Elaine French, never pursued her education on a collegiate level — so, as a mother, it was a huge part of her role to encourage her children to achieve academic success. So, given her abundance of support at home, it comes as no surprise to learn that Gates was a standout in the classroom from a young age.

As noted by the Los Angeles Times, Gates was described as the "good Catholic girl, who sits in the front row and gets good grades" and was the student in class who "always raised her hand before speaking out answers." At St. Monica School in Dallas, Texas, math quickly became Gates' favorite subject (just wait, her academic path gets even better). Given her mother's dedication to education, it makes complete sense that one of Gates' initiatives through her foundation is education. As noted by Public School Review, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested billions of dollars in the U.S. education system.

Melinda Gates took an early interest in computers

A study commissioned by Microsoft found that by the time girls reach the age of 15, many of them have been discouraged from pursuing science and math (via CNN Business), but that was not the case for Melinda Gates. As noted by Biography, Gates "developed an early interest in computers" due in part to the math classes she took, and her interest only grew with time. We'll dive more into Gates' academic pursuits in a bit, but it's important to note how her strong interest in STEM has significantly guided her life as a philanthropist.

As noted by CNBC, Gates has spent a bulk of her career bringing "attention to the lack of women and minorities in the industry where she started her professional career: technology." "Bringing women and underrepresented minorities into the field guarantees that we see the full range of solutions to the real problems that people face in the world," Gates said as part of the annual Computer Science Education Week. 

We're lucky that Gates developed such a keen interest in computers at an early age, because, as noted by Computer Science, only 20% of the profession is made up of women.

Melinda Gates' Catholic background hasn't stopped her from becoming outspoken in her adult life

As aforementioned, Melinda Gates was born into a seemingly ordinary family and was raised Catholic. As such, she adhered to the backbone of the religion — and while she is an incredibly private person, Gates did reveal that it took time for her to understand and move past some of the more narrow-minded perspectives she had as a young person. As noted by the Los Angeles Times, Gates has been a vocal advocate for women's rights, particularly about access to contraception, which goes against the very nature of the religion in which she was brought up.

So why the shift in values? Gates revealed in her memoir that it was only by her own "private revelations" that she began to see the world outside of the lens of Catholicism. "When women [are] able to time and space their pregnancies, they [are] more likely to advance their education, earn an income, raise healthy children, and have the time and money to give each child the food, care, and education needed to thrive," she wrote. Here's to changing your own perspectives for the better.

Before meeting one tech pioneer, Melinda Gates was inspired by another computer genius' work

We all know that Melinda Gates is (but soon won't be) married to the co-founder of Microsoft, one of the largest tech companies in existence, but her love affair with computers started with a rival company. As noted by The Seattle Times, Gates' first exposure to the computer was the Apple II, which, of course, was made by Macintosh (not Microsoft, what a scandal). Her father then bought her the Apple III computer, and, according to The Seattle Times, "the French home became a gathering place for neighbor children to study and work with the computer." Sounds great to us, since these days everyone just looks down at their own individual phones.

So, what was the Apple II? As noted by the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs created the Apple I computer in 1976 and released the Apple II to the public in April of 1977. The Apple II "started the boom in personal computer sales in the late 1970s" and effectively put the company at the top of the pack. Who would've thought that Gates was, after all, an Apple fan?

Melinda Gates' early learning of coding inspired some of her later philanthropic work

Thanks in part to her supportive mother and her engineer father, Melinda Gates was exposed to the latest developments in technology when she was just a kid. As noted by the Independent, her interest in math and computer science really started to pay off, and after she got her hands on an Apple computer (sorry, Bill!), she started playing computer games. To top off what was already pretty cutting-edge at that time, Gates started learning programming language — BASIC, to be specific.

Gates would go on to pursue a degree in computer science (more on that later), and coding has, in fact, stayed a very relevant and personal topic to her. She appeared as a summer speaker for Girls Who Code, an organization that inspires girls to pursue careers in computer science. The philanthropist said that jobs in computer science are some of the most needed, and girls should be filling the spots. She also highlighted her own experience with imposter syndrome — having been a champion for women in STEM before it was "cool." The solution? Go in with confidence.

Melinda Gates didn't grow up with a ton of money at her disposal

Melinda Gates is a very private person. There's so much about her life that has to be pieced together from rare interviews, her memoir, commencement speeches, and little tid-bits she shares on social media. Luckily, Fortune was able to score a sit-down interview with her in January of 2008 — her first solo profile ever. She was rather forthcoming, and for a woman who is worth $70 billion, she revealed that she knows what it is like to have to work for what you have. 

As aforementioned, Gates' parents were absolutely adamant that she went to college — her mother didn't get to attend herself, so it was a very big deal to pursue a higher education. But, of course, as so many of us know, college is beyond expensive. So, Gates' parents started putting in the work early to ensure their daughter's academic success. In addition to his work as an engineer, Gates' father started a rental property business to build money for his daughter's education. "We would help him run the business and keep the books," she said. "We saw money coming in and money going out." Talk about dedication.

Melinda Gates was smart straight out of the gate, graduating valedictorian from high school

Melinda Gates absolutely did not peak in high school, but her time at the Ursuline Academy in Dallas, Texas was pretty great. As noted by Business Insider India, Gates was the head of the drill team at Ursuline and was a stand-out student. Her former computer teacher, Susan Bauer, told The Seattle Times that Gates was always helping out other students with their programming skills, and her smarts took her all the way to the top — she graduated as valedictorian in 1982. "She was hard-working and personable," Bauer said. "She was one of the best students I ever had." We're not at all surprised.

The Ursuline Academy clearly had a positive impact on Gates, because the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $2 million to the high school — their second donation to the school. The money was directly donated for the construction of The French Family Science, Math, and Technology Center. Gates also served as an advisor to the school and helped implement the institution's ambitious laptop sharing program (via The Gates Foundation). What an alma mater.

Melinda Gates was a very involved college student

Melinda Gates was a standout student who helped the other kids with their programming skills — so would it surprise you to discover that she attended Duke University? Probably not, since she's a genius. As noted by The Seattle Times, Gates had a very interesting college experience. On the one hand, she was very involved. On the other, it appears as though she didn't make a ton of friends.

But let's begin with all the ways she contributed to Duke. As The Seattle Times reported, Gates was a member of the freshmen advisory council while a student and served as a campus tour guide (imagine having gotten a tour of Duke from the lady who would become one of the most influential people in the world?). In addition, Gates was a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, which, on the Duke campus, had approximately 80 sorority sisters.

But, despite all of her involvement, few people were struck by her presence. "She lived in my dorm, she was in my sorority and I didn't know her very well," fellow sorority sister Susan Lee Greenfield told The Seattle Times. Some people just keep more to themselves, we suppose.

Melinda Gates knew how to have a good time in her younger years

Oh, college. Those years can be the absolute best, the absolute worst, and the most tiring time of a person's life. With all the pressures that are associated with being a college student, it's no big surprise that partying becomes a part of the social fabric — after all, you have to be able to let out some steam at some point, right? 

Well, despite displaying a more quiet demeanor in college, based on what others have said about her, it's been reported that Melinda Gates did know how to have a pretty good time in college! One of her sorority sisters, Rebecca Chaffin, told The Seattle Times that despite her hard-working demeanor, Gates would frequently join her peers at beer parties (we're getting war flashbacks as we speak). She even dipped her toes in the dating pool at Duke, but unlike many of her female peers who "typically played the field," Gates was reportedly linked to just "a few men for a longer time." And just who were the men in question? One is none other than William Wrigley Jr., the heir to the chewing gum company. What a life this lady has lived.

Unlike her (soon-to-be ex) husband, Melinda Gates is fully college educated

You'd think that the co-founder of Microsoft, one of the biggest tech companies quite literally ever, would have gotten every kind of college degree necessary in order to set himself up for success. But nope — Bill Gates famously dropped out of Harvard, making Melinda Gates far more college educated than her (soon-to-be ex) husband.

As noted by Duke University, Melinda earned two bachelor's degrees from the prestigious institution — one in computer science (go figure) and another in economics. She graduated in 1986 from her undergraduate career and went on to The Fuqua School of Business at Duke the next year for her master's degree in business administration. This influential philanthropist, by her own accord, is extremely well-educated. "No matter how much time passes ... I always feel connected to Duke," Melinda said about her alma mater. "I loved my time at Duke, and ever since I graduated, I've stayed in touch." The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has been very generous with Duke, once giving the school a $20 million grant to establish the Duke Global Health Institute.

After finishing college, Melinda Gates worked as an intern for this company

Think back to the days in college when you worked as an intern — you were the person who fetched the coffee and put paper in the copier. Well, what if we told you that Melinda Gates, one of the most influential people in the world, also worked as an intern? Yes, it's true, she did, and now it's given us hope for everyone else who started at the bottom of the work food chain. 

As noted by the Independent, after Gates left Duke University, she was hired as an intern for International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) — in 1986, IBM was creating personal computers that could be, for the first time, transported elsewhere. The company was also introducing floppy disks to the world (via The Art Institute of Chicago). Gates was in the recruitment process for a job out of college, and she reportedly told a recruiter that she had just one more interview on the books — it was with a fairly new company called Microsoft. "If you get a job offer from them, take it," the recruiter said to her. "The chance for advancement there is terrific." The rest, of course, is history.

Melinda Gates was always a private person whom her neighbors didn't know very well

Bill and Melinda Gates are known for their privacy, especially within the press. They rarely speak to journalists and have told former neighbors and associates not to speak about them to the media — it's all very hush-hush, but, as noted by The Seattle Times, Melinda has always been a private person. 

After she left college, Melinda lived in a house in Leschi, Seattle. The house, itself, was just as secluded as Melinda — the outlet noted that in order to reach the property that was surrounded by the woods, you had to climb a long flight of steps. The property was said to have a great view of Lake Washington, but only Melinda would really know. "Neighbors said she was rarely home and kept to herself, though she was always pleasant and said hello as she got in and out of her car," The Seattle Times noted. "Outside of (a visit by) her mother, I don't think she had much company," former neighbor Russell Lanning said.

Why the heightened privacy? Who's to say, but maybe Melinda knew that many people would want access to her life one day.

Melinda Gates finally met Bill Gates, and the rest (no matter how sad) is history

Of course, Melinda Gates finally met Bill Gates when she started working at Microsoft, and the rest is history. As noted by CNBC, Melinda worked as a general manager of Microsoft, working on a number of projects that helped get the company off the ground. So, how did she and the billionaire co-founder meet? At a Microsoft employee dinner, of all places. "It took him quite a few months before he asked me out," Melinda said about their early dating lives. 

Bill reportedly used a blackboard to write out the pros and cons of dating Melinda (to be honest, we've all made a very similar list), and, clearly, the positives outweighed the negatives. The two married in Hawaii in 1994 and went on to establish one of the largest philanthropic foundations together. "In the case of Melinda, it is a truly equal partner," Bill said about his (soon-to-be ex) wife. "She's a lot like me in that she is optimistic and she is interested in science. She is better with people than I am." 

Unfortunately, years later, in May of 2021, the couple announced on Twitter their intentions to get divorced. We wish both of them the best here on out.