The daughter of a contractor father and an artist mother, Kate Mulgrew was the second oldest of eight children. At 18, Mulgrew headed to New York to study acting with Stella Adler. She spent a grueling year or so pounding on casting-agency doors and making ends meet as a waitress and model. Then, on the same day in 1975, she landed two plum roles: Emily Webb in a stage revival of Our Town, and Mary Ryan on the new ABC TV soap opera Ryan's Hope. Four years later, she was tapped to play Kate Columbo, the previously never-seen wife of dishevelled TV detective Columbo (Peter Falk), on the prime-time series Mrs. Columbo, later retitled Kate Loves a Mystery. Columbo himself would never be seen on Mrs. Columbo; for that matter, few viewers saw Kate Mulgrew, since the rather ill-conceived series never built up much of an audience. Despite this setback, the actress persevered, starring in the 1981 miniseries The Manions of America and appearing in such theatrical features as A Stranger is Watching (1982), Remo Williams (1985) and Throw Mama from the Train (1987). She went on to co-star with James Garner in the short-lived weekly Man of the People (1991), and in 1995 joined the ever-growing "Star Trek" family as Captain Kathryn Janeway in Star Trek Voyager (she replaced Genevieve Bujold, who dropped out of the role in the middle of filming the first episode). Her significant TV guest appearances include a Boston councilwoman who carries on a torrid romance with Sam Malone (Ted Danson) in a 1986 episode of Cheers, and an alcoholic broadcast journalist on a 1992 installment of Murphy Brown; this last-named performance earned her a Tracey Humanitarian Award. Throughout her film and TV career, she has periodically returned to the stage, most recently in an all-star Broadway revival of Peter Schaffer's Black Comedy. In recognition of twenty years' worth of "artistic contributions," Kate Mulgrew was made an Honorary Doctor of Letters by Seton Hall University.
Her career changed forever when she was cast as Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, becoming the first woman to lead one of the ships in the durable sci-fi franchise. The program ran for seven years. She was in 1998's Riddler's Moon, 2002's big-screen effort Star Trek: Nemesis. In 2011 she was part of the Star Trek documentary The Captains.