Rachel Meghan Markle was born August 4, 1981, in Los Angeles, California. Her mother, Doria Ragland, is a former social worker and yoga instructor living in View Park–Windsor Hills, California. Markle has often been described as having a very close friendship with her mother. Her father, Thomas Markle Sr., lives in Rosarito, Mexico, and is a retired television director of photography and lighting director whose profession resulted in his young daughter often visiting the set of Married...with Children. Markle's parents divorced when she was six years old. Her older paternal half-siblings are Samantha Markle and Thomas Markle Jr., from whom she is reportedly estranged.
Markle is descended on her mother's side from enslaved Africans, and on her father's side from European settlers. She described her heritage in a 2015 essay for Elle magazine: "My dad is Caucasian and my mom is African American. I'm half black and half white .... While my mixed heritage may have created a grey area surrounding my self-identification, keeping me with a foot on both sides of the fence, I have come to embrace that. To say who I am, to share where I'm from, to voice my pride in being a strong, confident mixed-race woman."
Markle grew up in Hollywood. She was educated at private schools, beginning at age two at the Hollywood Little Red Schoolhouse. Nick News with Linda Ellerbee profiled her successful campaign at age 11 to get Procter & Gamble to change a national television commercial that she viewed as sexist. Raised as a Protestant, she nonetheless attended Immaculate Heart High School, an all-girl Catholic private school in Los Angeles. Markle was then admitted to Northwestern University, where she joined Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and participated in community service and charity projects. She also served an internship at the American embassy in Buenos Aires, and studied for one semester in Madrid. She earned her bachelor's degree from Northwestern's School of Communication in 2003, with a double major in theater and international studies.