Caroline Lawson Ivey (1912-1972), a lifelong resident of Smiths Station, Lee County, combined observation and imagination to comment on a subject she knew well: reactions of southerners encountering enormous social and personal change. The Family, her only published work, centers on the aristocratic Olmstead family facing such challenges. A second novel, set in the civil rights era, remains unpublished.
Caroline Lawson Ivey The older child of Mildred (Hays) and Albert Rupert Lawson, Ivey was born on March 15, 1912, at Lawson Farms in Smiths Station. Although in fragile health, including bouts with scarlet fever and a brain embolism, Lawson attended local public schools and graduated as class valedictorian. In 1934, she received a degree in education from Alabama Polytechnic Institute (now Auburn University). After graduating, Lawson taught literature and drama at Smith’s Station High School and the Auburn City Schools from 1934 to 1938. She left teaching in 1938 after she married Oliver Turner Ivey, a history professor, whom she had met while in college. He may have been the model for Stewart Crawford, one of the main characters in The Family.
While her husband was serving in the Army, Ivey enrolled in the graduate English program at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and earned a master’s degree in 1946. She returned to Lee County and taught high school English during 1946-47. In 1948, she inherited the family farm from her mother, and in 1949 she attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in Middlebury, Vermont, where she began writing the story that evolved into The Family. At Bread Loaf, she also met William Sloan, whose company advanced her $500 for the rights to the manuscript in progress. The Family, printed by Sloan Publishers in May 1952, sold only 4,277 copies and was out of print by 1960.
The Family is narrated by Shelby Olmstead Crawford, daughter of a southern aristocratic family. Through her observations, Ivey explores the interaction of people in a society where class, race, and place are no longer fixed. Shelby’s marriage to a northerner, Stewart Crawford, who abhors his wife’s devotion to tradition and family, prods her to question her own values and her place in a changing world. Released to generally favorable reception, The Family anticipates the novels of such writers as Gail Godwin and Anne Tyler.
Ivey remained in Smith’s Station until her death at age 59 on January 9, 1972. The Caroline Lawson Ivey Memorial Foundation, established in her name, administers grants for aspiring middle and secondary level teachers.
Brown, Jerry Elijah. Introduction to The Family. By Caroline Lawson Ivey. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1991.
Archives and Manuscripts Department, Ralph Brown Draughon Library, Auburn University, Auburn, Alabama.