Genevieve Taggard was born on November 28, 1894, in Waitsburg, Washington, United States to the family of James Taggard and Alta Arnold. She was the eldest child of schoolteacher-missionaries, whose Scots-Irish pioneer ancestors had migrated to Washington from Vermont. She was the granddaughter of two Union soldiers.
When Taggard was two years old, the family moved to Hawaii. There her parents served as missionaries for the fundamentalist Disciples of Christ, and her father built up a public school at Kalihiwaena, near Honolulu. Taggard spent most of her childhood in Hawaii, where she grew up among her father's Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese students, and she developed a hearty dislike for American tourists. The Bible was the only book her parents allowed in the house ("I made Bible stories into fairy-tales," she wrote in 1927), but she read Keats and Ruskin secretly, and at school, she learned Hawaiian legends. When the family made preparations to return to Waitsburg in 1905 (because her father was thought to have tuberculosis), one Hawaiian playmate told her, "Too bad you gotta be Haole [white]" - and later she wrote, "Off and on, I have thought so too, all my life." The family did not like Waitsburg, and in 1906 they came back to Hawaii, where they stayed until 1910 when James' ill-health once again drove them back to Waitsburg.
The family remained at Waitsburg while Taggard's father was working at a small pear farm for his brother, until 1912. The contrast between small-town rural America and the rich multiracial cosmopolitanism of Hawaii made a lasting impression on Taggard: the cruel and brutal insensitivity she found in Waitsburg, where the Taggards lived the life of the rural poor, crystallized into liberalism she later expressed through leftist poetry and commitment to liberal and proletarian causes. In 1934, she wrote that the time in Waitsburg had been "the active source of my convictions. It told us what to work against and what to work for." It is quite possible that the family's financial history also contributed to her political and feminist convictions: after many years of saving, her parents had accumulated $2,000, and it was earmarked to pay for Alta's college education, but when James' brother fell on hard times, the money went to him. With it he bought a farm in Waitsburg, became prosperous, but never repaid the loan: "my mother," Taggard later wrote, "went as nearly insane with rage as she could permit herself." Instead, her uncle hired James, when he was forced to leave Hawaii, to work on the pear farm - and it was in those years that, in Taggard's words, "used as my uncle's hired help and wearing his family's cast-off clothing, we integrated ourselves into the single struggle to exist."