Emma Frost was born into a wealthy old Boston mercantile family that arrived from England in the 1600s. The second of three daughters, Emma also had an older brother named Christian who had turned to substance abuse as an escape from the drudgery of his life. Unknown to their family or themselves, the three Frost sisters were mutants whose telepathic abilities matured upon reaching puberty.
When it came time for their father to choose a worthy heir to the family fortune, Christian was automatically dismissed due to his drug problem. Whilst the older sister Adrienne seemed the most obvious choice, the father chose Emma. Surprisingly, she refused, choosing to make her own way through life.
Emma ultimately inherited a good deal of wealth, but most of her large fortune resulted from her professional success. She ascended rapidly to the upper echelon of the business world on the strength of her intelligence, drive, and personal charm, as well as the secret use of her mental powers. Also, at some point, the Dark Beast met Emma, and helped her rise to wealth and power.
Eventually, Emma became majority stockholder of a multibillion-dollar conglomerate principally involved in electronics and transportation - both the building of ships and aircraft, and their use for freight and passenger conveyance. Despite her relative youth, she was named chairwoman of the board and chief executive officer of the rechristened Frost International. She also became headmistress and chairwoman of the board of trustees of the Massachusetts Academy - a college preparatory school for students in grades seven through twelve located in the Berkshire Mountains in Snow Valley, Massachusetts.
Emma's success caught the attention of the Hellfire Club, an elite social organization consisting of the world's wealthiest and most powerful figures. When she learned that the club was hiring dancers, she promptly auditioned and used her telepathic talents to enhance her performance in their eyes. Unlike the other females in the Club, Emma was never uncomfortable with the strict dress code that required female members to wear lingerie at all times. She believed her revealing wardrobe to be one of many weapons in her arsenal, one that gave her an instant advantage over men.
Frost quickly became an ally of Sebastian Shaw, a member of the club's Council of the Chosen who were secretly conspiring to achieve world domination through economic and political means. At the time, the leaders of the club and council - its foremost Lords Cardinal, whose titles corresponded to the names of chess pieces - were White King Edward Buckman and White Queen Paris Seville.
Buckman threw the council's support behind Project Armageddon, scientist Steven Lang's program to construct mutant-hunting Sentinel robots.
Aware of Shaw's genetic disposition, Buckman told him the initiative's intent was to capture mutants as a means of helping the council attain power. Using her psionic powers, Emma learned that the project's actual purpose was the annihilation of all genetic deviants. After Shaw's lover, Lourdes Chantel, was murdered by one of the Sentinels, Shaw and Frost staged a coup that saw them seize control of the Council of the Chosen, which they renamed the Inner Circle. Shaw took the title of Black King, and Frost became the new White Queen.
Under Shaw and Frost's leadership, mutants dominated the Inner Circle. To strengthen the Club's power base, Emma recruited genetically gifted youngsters and helped them hone their abilities at her school. Most of these students were members of the Hellions, Emma's first mutant super-team. She initially encountered the outlaw band of heroic mutant adventurers known as the X-Men when she unsuccessfully attempted to recruit young Kitty Pryde, the phase-shifting mutant known as Shadowcat. Subsequently, Emma crossed paths with the X-Men - and their protégés, the New Mutants - on a number of occasions, often as their adversary. Later, the X-Men joined with the Hellions to protect the White Queen from the time-traveling terrorist named Trevor Fitzroy. However, the madman's brutal assault plunged Emma into a deep coma and brought about the Hellions' untimely demise.
Whilst Emma's consciousness still active on the material plane, her body was kept in the med-lab at the X-Men's mansion. Seeking to ensure her students' welfare and the school's future, Emma had willed responsibility for the Massachusetts Academy to Professor Charles Xavier, the X-Men's telepathic founder. During her psychic incapacitation, the school was added to the rapidly expanding Xavier Institute.
While Emma’s corporeal form was in stasis, a short-circuit in the mansion inadvertently caused her psyche to possess the X-Man named Iceman, whilst his mind was transferred into her body.
Coerced by Professor X, Emma eventually reclaimed her own form. After making a full recovery, she resumed her role as headmistress of the academy. Ably assisted by Sean Cassidy, the sonically empowered former X-Man known as Banshee, she set out to train a new crop of young mutants: Generation X. When the sinking stock market dealt Frost International a major blow, Emma swallowed her pride and sought the help of her older sister, Adrienne, who agreed to support her sibling's flagging financial interests only if she were named co-headmaster. But Adrienne's power play did not wind down when Emma acceded to her request, nor did it end when she supplanted her sister as the Hellfire Club's White Queen. Only after Adrienne telepathically incited a riot at the school did Emma find a way to upset her ascension: the way of the gun. Emma shot and killed her sister, thereby laying claim to Adrienne's inheritance.