Karle Wilson, daughter of Kate Florence Montgomery Wilson and William Thomas Murphey Wilson, was born on October 13, 1878 in Little Rock, Arkansas. She attended public schools, Little Rock Academy, and Ouachita Baptist College. When she was nineteen, she enrolled at the University of Chicago for a year and two or three summers, where she studied under poet William Vaughn Moody and novelist Robert Herrick. For two years during the long term she taught at a girl's school in Bristol, Virginia. The final "e" in her first name was added in 1893 to help avert mistakes in gender, but her name continued to be mistaken for a man's throughout her life by fans and reviewers.