Born in 1896 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to an upper-middle-class family, Fitzgerald was named after his famous second cousin, three times removed, Francis Scott Key, but was referred to by the familiar moniker Scott Fitzgerald. He was also named after his deceased sister, Louise Scott, one of two sisters who died shortly before his birth. "Well, three months before I was born," he wrote as an adult, "my mother lost her other two children ... I think I started then to be a writer." His parents were Mollie (McQuillan) and Edward Fitzgerald. His mother was of Irish descent, and his father had Irish and English ancestry. Fitzgerald is the first cousin once removed of Mary Surratt, hanged in 1865 for conspiring to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
Fitzgerald spent the first decade of his childhood primarily in Buffalo, New York (1898–1901 and 1903–1908, with a short interlude in Syracuse, New York between January 1901 and September 1903). His parents, both Catholic, sent Fitzgerald to two Catholic schools on the West Side of Buffalo, first Holy Angels Convent (1903–1904, now disused) and then Nardin Academy (1905–1908). His formative years in Buffalo revealed him to be a boy of unusual intelligence and drive with a keen early interest in literature. His doting mother ensured that her son had all the advantages of an upper-middle-class upbringing. In a rather unconventional style of parenting, Fitzgerald attended Holy Angels with the peculiar arrangement that he go for only half a day—and was allowed to choose which half.
In 1908, his father was fired from Procter & Gamble, and the family returned to Minnesota, where Fitzgerald attended St. Paul Academy in St. Paul from 1908 to 1911. When he was 13 he saw his first piece of writing appear in print—a detective story published in the school newspaper. In 1911, when Fitzgerald was 15 years old, his parents sent him to the Newman School, a prestigious Catholic prep school in Hackensack, New Jersey. Fitzgerald played on the 1912 Newman football team. At Newman, he met Father Sigourney Fay, who noticed his incipient talent with the written word and encouraged him to pursue his literary ambitions.
After graduating from the Newman School in 1913, Fitzgerald decided to stay in New Jersey to continue his artistic development at Princeton University. Fitzgerald tried out for the college football team, but was cut the first day of practice. At Princeton, he firmly dedicated himself to honing his craft as a writer. There he became friends with future critics and writers Edmund Wilson (Class of 1916) and John Peale Bishop (Class of 1917), and wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club, the Nassau Lit, and the Princeton Tiger. He also was involved in the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, which ran the Nassau Lit. His absorption in the Triangle—a kind of musical-comedy society—led to his submission of a novel to Charles Scribner's Sons where the editor praised the writing but ultimately rejected the book. He was a member of the University Cottage Club, which still displays Fitzgerald's desk and writing materials in its library.
Fitzgerald's writing pursuits at Princeton came at the expense of his coursework. He was placed on academic probation, and in 1917 he dropped out of school to join the U.S. Army. Afraid that he might die in World War I with his literary dreams unfulfilled, in the weeks before reporting for duty Fitzgerald hastily wrote a novel called The Romantic Egotist. Although the publisher Charles Scribner's Sons rejected the novel, the reviewer noted its originality and encouraged Fitzgerald to submit more work in the future.