Edna Painter Searles was born in Roanoke, Virginia, and grew up in Kingsport, Tennessee. She graduated from Dobyns-Bennett High School in 1939 and then attended business school before going to work for a law firm in Kingsport.
In 1944, Searles joined the Marine Corps Women’s Reserve and went to basic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. She remained at Camp Lejeune, working in the legal office. Searles later became a court reporter, and was eventually the non-commissioned officer in charge of the legal office. She was discharged in October 1945.
Searles married in July 1945. Her husband’s U.S. Air Force service took their family to South Dakota, Kansas, Florida, Germany, and Hawaii. They later settled in Florida and Searles worked as the administrative assistant to Dr. J. Ollie Edmunds, the president of Stetson University, for ten years. In the late 1960s, she helped the Fish Trust set up a retirement center, which she managed for thirteen years. In the early 1980s, they moved to Linville, North Carolina, where Searles worked for a golf course.