Claudia Alta Taylor was born on December 22, 1912 in Karnack, a town in East Texas. Her birthplace was "The Brick House," an antebellum plantation house on the outskirts of town, which her father had purchased shortly before her birth. She is a descendant of English Protestant martyr Rowland Taylor through his grandson Captain Thomas J. Taylor, II.
She was named for her mother's brother Claud. During her infancy, her nursemaid, Alice Tittle, said that she was as "purty as a ladybird". The nickname virtually replaced her first name for the rest of her life. Her father and siblings called her Lady.
A native of Alabama, her father had primarily English ancestry, and some Welsh and Danish. Her mother was also a native of Alabama, of English and Scottish descent.