Maddow was born in Castro Valley, California. Her father, Robert B. "Bob" Maddow, is a former United States Air Forcecaptain who resigned his commission the year before her birth and found civilian work as a lawyer for the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Her mother, Elaine Maddow (née Gosse), is a school program administrator. She has one older brother, David. Her paternal grandfather was from an Eastern European Jewish family (the original family surname being "Medwedof"), while her paternal grandmother was of Dutch (Protestant) background; her mother, originally from Newfoundland, Canada, is of English and Irish ancestry. Maddow has stated that her family is "very, very Catholic", and she grew up in a community that her mother has described as "very conservative." Maddow was a competitive athlete and played three sports in high school: volleyball, basketball, and swimming. Referencing John Hughes films, she has described herself as being "a cross between the jock and the antisocial girl" in high school.
A graduate of Castro Valley High School in Castro Valley, California, she attended Stanford University. While a freshman, she was outed by the college newspaper when an interview with her was published by the student newspaper before she could tell her parents. Maddow earned a degree in public policy at Stanford in 1994. At graduation, she was awarded the John Gardner Fellowship. She was also the recipient of a Rhodes Scholarship and began her postgraduate study in 1995 at Lincoln College, Oxford. This made her the first openly gay or lesbian American to win an international Rhodes Scholarship. In 2001, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy (DPhil) in politics at Oxford University. Her thesis is titled HIV/AIDS and Health Care Reform in British and American Prisons and her supervisor was Dr. Lucia Zedner.
Maddow's first radio hosting job was at WRNX (100.9 FM) in Holyoke, Massachusetts, then home to, "The Dave in the Morning Show". She entered and won a contest the station held to find a new sidekick for the show's host, Dave Brinnel. She went on to host Big Breakfast on WRSI, in Northampton, Massachusetts, for two years. She left the show in March 2004 to join the new Air America. There she hosted Unfiltered along with Chuck D (of the hip hop group Public Enemy) and Lizz Winstead (co-creator of The Daily Show), until its cancellation in March 2005. Two weeks after the cancellation of Unfiltered in April 2005, Maddow's weekday two-hour radio program, The Rachel Maddow Show, began airing; in March 2008 it gained an hour, broadcasting from 6 to 9 p.m. EST with David Bender filling in the third hour for the call-in section, when Maddow was on TV assignment. In September 2008, the show's length returned to two hours when Maddow began a nightly MSNBC television program. In February 2009, after renewing her contract with Air America, Maddow returned to the 5 a.m. hour-long slot.Her last Air America show was on January 21, 2010, two weeks before its owners filed for bankruptcy.
In April 2008, Maddow was the substitute host for Countdown with Keith Olbermann, her first time hosting a program on MSNBC. Maddow described herself on air as "nervous." Keith Olbermann complimented her work, and she was brought back to host Countdown the next month. The show she hosted was the highest rated news program among people aged 25 to 54, a key demographic in ratings. For her success, the next Monday, Olbermann ranked Maddow third in his show's segment "World's Best Persons". In July 2008, while Olbermann was on vacation, Maddow filled in again for several broadcasts and, on July 21, for half the show. Maddow also filled in for David Gregory as host of Race for the White House.
Olbermann began to push for Maddow to get her own show at MSNBC, and he was eventually able to persuade Phil Griffin to give her Dan Abrams' time slot. A fan and friend of Maddow's, Olbermann was able to use his influence, which had become greater as his ratings rose.
In August 2008, MSNBC announced The Rachel Maddow Show would replace Verdict with Dan Abrams in the network's 9 p.m. slot the following month. Following its debut, the show topped Countdown as the highest rated show on MSNBC on several occasions. After being on air for more than a month, Maddow's program doubled the audience that hour. This show made Maddow the first openly gay or lesbian host of a prime-time news program in the United States.
Early reviews for the show were mostly positive. Los Angeles Times writer Matea Gold stated Maddow "finds the right formula on MSNBC," and The Guardian writes Maddow has become the "star of America's cable news."Associated Press columnist David Bauder said she's "[Keith] Olbermann's political soul mate" and the Olbermann-Maddow shows are a "liberal two-hour block."
A 2011 Hollywood Reporter profile of Maddow said that she was able to deliver news "with agenda, but not hysteria." A Newsweek profile noted that, "At her best, Maddow debates ideological opponents with civility and persistence... But for all her eloquence, she can get so wound up ripping Republicans that she sounds like another smug cable partisan." The Baltimore Sun critic David Zurawik has accused Maddow of acting like 'a lockstep party member.'" The editors of The New Republic have similarly criticized her. Naming her among the "most over-rated thinkers" of 2011, they called her program "A textbook example of the intellectual limitations of a perfectly settled perspective." On awarding the Interfaith Alliance's Faith and Freedom Award named for Walter Cronkite, Rev. Dr. C Welton Gaddy remarked that "Rachel's passionate coverage of the intersection of religion and politics exhibits a strong personal intellect coupled with constitutional sensitivity to the proper boundaries between religion and government.”
A Time profile called her a "whip-smart, button-cute leftie." It said that she radiates an essential decency and suggested that her career rise might signify that "nice is the new nasty."
Distinguishing herself from others on the left, Maddow said she's a "national security liberal" and in a different interview that she's not "a partisan."The New York Times called her a "defense policy wonk" and Maddow has written Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power (2012), a book on the role of the military in postwar American politics. During the 2008 presidential election, Maddow did not formally support any candidate. Concerning Barack Obama's candidacy, Maddow said during the primaries, "I have never and still don't think of myself as an Obama supporter, either professionally or actually."
In March, 2010, RepublicanScott Brown, the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts, speculated that Maddow was going to run against him in the 2012 Senate election. His campaign used this premise for a fundraising email, while Maddow repeatedly stated that Brown's speculation was false. Brown continued his claims in Boston media, so Maddow ran a full-page advertisement in The Boston Globe confirming that she was not running, and separately demanded Brown's apology. She added that, despite repeated invitations over the months, Brown had refused to appear on her TV program. Ultimately, it was Elizabeth Warren who ran in 2012, defeating Brown.
On December 11, 2013, The Washington Post announced that Maddow would write a monthly opinion column for the paper, contributing one article per month for a period of six months.
Maddow lives in Manhattan and western Massachusetts with her partner, artist Susan Mikula. The couple met in 1999, when Mikula hired Maddow to do yard work at her home. Maddow was working on her doctoral dissertation at the time. Their first date was at a National Rifle Association "Ladies' Day on the Range" event.
Maddow has dealt with cyclical depression since puberty. In a 2012 interview, she stated, "It doesn't take away from my joy or my work or my energy, but coping with depression is something that is part of the everyday way that I live and have lived for as long as I can remember."
Honors and awards
Emmy Award in the Outstanding News Discussion and Analysis category for "The Rachel Maddow Show" episode "Good Morning Landlocked Central Asia!"
Maddow was named in Out magazine's "Out 100" list of the "gay men and women who moved culture" in 2008.
Maddow was voted "Lesbian/Bi Woman of the Year (American)" in AfterEllen's 2008 Visibility Awards.
Maddow won a Gracie Award in 2009, presented by the American Women in Radio and Television.
In 2009, Maddow was nominated for GLAAD's 20th Annual Media Awards for a segment of her MSNBC show, "Rick Warren, Change To Believe In?", in the Outstanding TV Journalism Segment category.
On March 28, 2009, Maddow received a Proclamation of Honor from the California State Senate, presented in San Francisco by California State Senator Mark Leno.
In April 2009, she was listed at number four in Out magazine's Annual Power 50 List.
Maddow placed sixth in the "2009 AfterEllen.com Hot 100" list (May 11, 2009) and third in its "2009 Hot 100: Out Women" version.
Maddow was included on a list of openly gay media professionals in The Advocate's "Forty under 40" issue of June/July 2009.
In 1994, Maddow was an Honorable Mention in the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity Prize in Ethics.
In June 2009, Maddow's MSNBC show was the only cable news show nominated for a Television Critics Association award in the Outstanding Achievement in News and Information category.
In March 2010, Maddow won at the 21st Annual GLAAD Media Awards in the category, Outstanding TV Journalism- Newsmagazine for her segment, "Uganda Be Kidding Me".