Bette Yee was born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in Hooksett, New Hampshire. Both of her parents emigrated from China and her father served in the United States Army during World War II. She worked in family restaurants as a teenager and young adult, and attended the University of New Hampshire for her undergraduate degree. She later moved to Brooklyn, New York, and settled in Prospect Heights. She worked in finance and became involved in New York City's Asian community, particularly the Organization of Asian Women. She later lived in Park Slope and Prospect Lefferts Gardens.