Vera Blanche Rackley Jenkins was born in Smithfield, North Carolina, and grew up in Ashe and Allegheny counties in western North Carolina. After graduating from high school in 1936, she attended Appalachian State Teachers’ College (now Appalachian State University) in Boone, North Carolina, for one year, and then transferred to the Woman’s College of the University of North Carolina (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro) to study home economics. After graduating in 1939, she did a one-year internship at Duke Medical School in Durham, North Carolina, and then worked at hospitals in Marion and Kinston, North Carolina.
In 1941, Jenkins joined the civil service at Fort Bragg and served as a dietitian for Station Hospital 3. In 1942, she was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army, and she remained at Fort Bragg throughout the war, training dietitians to go overseas.
After her discharge from the army in summer of 1945, Jenkins married. She later became a manufacturer’s representative in food service equipment, taught student nurses, and was chief dietitian at Cape Fear Valley Hospital in Fayetteville, North Carolina.