The original opening of the series Rhoda establishes that Rhoda Faye Morgenstern was born in the Bronx, New York, in December 1941. She is the daughter of Ida and Martin Morgenstern (Nancy Walker and Harold Gould), and grew up in New York before moving to Minneapolis, Minnesota sometime in the late 1960s. On The Mary Tyler Moore Show Rhoda had a sister named Debbie (Liberty Williams) seen in one episode, and a briefly-mentioned brother named Arnold; they were retconned out of the back story when the character got her own series. On Rhoda, Rhoda's only sibling was a younger sister named Brenda, although in the sixth episode, Brenda refers to herself as Rhoda's "youngest sister."
Relocating from New York City, Rhoda was a window dresser at Hempel's after being fired at Bloomfield's department store in Minneapolis. (She also became the proprietor of a plant boutique in one third-season episode, though this was not again referenced after that.) She rented an attic loft apartment in the same house as the building manager, Phyllis Lindstrom.
Though she initially clashed with Mary Richards in the show's debut episode, when Mary moved into the larger apartment a floor below Rhoda's (which Rhoda had been trying to secure for herself), they quickly became best friends, despite their differences. (While Mary was a polite, sophisticated midwesterner, Rhoda was an astringent, brash New Yorker.) Throughout the series, Rhoda and Phyllis maintained an adversarial-but-friendly relationship. She also developed a close bond with Phyllis's daughter, Bess, who referred to Rhoda as her "aunt."
While living in Minneapolis, Rhoda received infrequent visits from her parents.
In 1974, Harper departed from The Mary Tyler Moore Show to star in Rhoda.