Born in Kentucky in 1895, Caroline Gordon developed a passion for storytelling at an early age. From her maternal grandmother and namesake, Gordon learned to cherish stories about her family “connection”—their experiences settling Kentucky and the devastation of the Civil War and Reconstruction. From her parents, James Morris Gordon and Nancy Minor Meriwether, Gordon developed a love for heroes of Greek and Roman myth. A consummate storyteller, J. M. Gordon ran a boys’ classical preparatory school with his wife in Clarksville, Tennessee, before becoming a Disciples of Christ minister. He also delighted his middle child and only daughter with vivid tales of his experiences hunting and fishing.
After graduating in 1916 with a degree in classical studies from Bethany College in West Virginia, Gordon taught high school until 1919. Then, inspired by her great-aunt Elizabeth Meriwether Gilmer (1861–1951), known as Dorothy Dix, a celebrated advice columnist and crime reporter, Gordon went to work for newspapers, first in Tennessee and later in West Virginia. She also began writing fiction during this period. Her numerous book reviews for Chattanooga News and Wheeling Intelligencer reveal her interest in contemporary literature. Her February 10, 1923, column in the News on the southern little magazine, the Fugitive, was one of the first serious reviews the magazine received.
In 1924, Gordon met Allen Tate (1899–1979), one of the Fugitive poets, whom she once described as “the most radical member of the group” (quoted in Jonza, p. 37). The attraction was mutual. Gordon moved to New York City that fall, and Tate soon followed, although their affair did not last long. Employed by Johnson Features, Gordon continued writing fiction in her spare time. Discovering she was pregnant in early 1925, Gordon convinced Tate to marry her. They intended to separate after their daughter was born, but did not do so.