Taylor Caldwell was born in Manchester, England, into a family of Scottish background. Her family descended from the Scottish clan of MacGregor of which the Taylors are a subsidiary clan. In 1907 she emigrated to the United States with her parents and younger brother. Her father died shortly after the move, and the family struggled. At the age of eight she started to write stories, and in fact wrote her first novel, The Romance of Atlantis, at the age of twelve (although it remained unpublished until 1975). She continued to write prolifically, however, despite ill health. (In 1947, according to TIME magazine, her husband Marcus Reback discarded and burned the manuscripts of 140 unpublished novels.)
In 1918-1919, she served in the United States Navy Reserve. In 1919 she married William F. Combs. In 1920, they had a daughter, Mary (known as "Peggy"). From 1923 to 1924 she was a court reporter in New York State Department of Labor in Buffalo, New York. In 1924, she went to work for the United States Department of Justice, as a member of the Board of Special Inquiry (an immigration tribunal) in Buffalo. In 1931 she graduated from the University of Buffalo, and also was divorced from William Combs.
Caldwell then married her second husband, Marcus Reback, a fellow Justice employee. She had a second child with Reback, a daughter Judith, in 1932. They were married for 40 years, until his death in 1971.
In 1934, she began to work on the novel Dynasty of Death, which she and Reback completed in collaboration. It was published in 1938 and became a best-seller. "Taylor Caldwell" was presumed to be a man, and there was some public stir when the author was revealed to be a woman. Over the next 43 years, she published 42 more novels, many of them best-sellers. For instance, This Side of Innocence was the biggest fiction seller of 1946. Her works sold an estimated 30 million copies. She became wealthy, traveling to Europe and elsewhere, though she still lived near Buffalo.
Her books were big sellers right up to the end of her career. In 1979, she signed a two-novel deal for $3.9 million.
During her career as a writer, she received several awards.
- The National League of American Pen Women gold medal (1948)
- The Buffalo Evening News Award (1949)
- The Grand Prix Chatvain (1950)
She was an outspoken conservative and for a time wrote for the John Birch Society's monthly journal American Opinion and even associated with the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby.
Her memoir, On Growing Up Tough, appeared in 1971, consisting of many edited-down articles from American Opinion.
Around 1970, she became interested in reincarnation. She had become friends with well-known occultist author Jess Stearn, who suggested that the vivid detail in her many historical novels was actually subconscious recollection of previous lives. Supposedly, she agreed to be hypnotized and undergo "past life regression" to disprove reincarnation. According to Stearn's book, The Search of a Soul - Taylor Caldwell's Psychic Lives (1973), Caldwell instead began to recall her own past lives - eleven in all, including one on the "lost continent" of Lemuria.
In 1972, she married William Everett Stancell, a retired real estate developer, but divorced him in 1973. In 1978, she married William Robert Prestie, an eccentric Canadian 17 years her junior. This led to difficulties with her children. She had a long dispute with her daughter Judith over the estate of Judith's father Marcus; in 1979, Judith committed suicide.
Also in 1979, Caldwell suffered a stroke, which left her unable to speak, though she could still write. (She had been deaf since about 1965.) Her daughter Peggy accused Prestie of abusing and exploiting Caldwell, and there was a legal battle over her substantial assets.
She died of heart failure in Greenwich, Connecticut on August 30, 1985.