Lily Ross Taylor was born in Auburn, Alabama. She developed an interest in ancient Roman history as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She went to Bryn Mawr College as a graduate student, earning her Ph.D. in Latin in 1912. In 1917, she became only the fourth female Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. After teaching at Vassar College for 15 years, she joined the faculty at Bryn Mawr as a professor of Latin and rose to be chairman of the department, and then dean of the graduate school in 1942. That same year, she served as president of the American Philological Association. During World War II, she served as the principal social science analyst in the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor of the CIA. After retiring from Bryn Mawr in 1952, she remained active as professor-in-charge of the Classical School of the American Academy in Rome and as a member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Among her acclaimed works was Party Politics in the Age of Caesar (1949).