Ivey Lewis was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1882 and graduated from the University of North Carolina. He was a professor and administrator at the University of Virginia and later became Dean of the College. Lewis founded the Association of Virginia Biologists, and taught at Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. He later became director of Mountain Lake Biological Station, and decided to make it a similar but inland version of Woods Hole, a research station he worked at previously. He studied racial eugenics and heredity early on in his career, and later focused on botany and researched galls on Witch Hazel trees. While at Mountain Lake he taught plant anatomy and oversaw the construction of Lewis Laboratory, the main lab building.