Virginia Van Dongen was born near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Rochester, New York. Her father operated an upscale grocery store and her mother was a homemaker. Van Dogen attended John Marshall High School and began working for Eastman Kodak as a keypunch operator, probably in 1940.
Van Dongen joined the SPARs in 1943 and completed basic training in West Palm Beach, Florida. After nine days as a keypunch operator in Washington, D.C., Van Dongen attended radio school in Atlantic City, New Jersey, for five months. She served from the fall of 1943 to the fall of 1945 in communications at Port Angeles, Washington. Van Dongen was discharged as a radioman third class in late 1945.
Van Dongen returned to her job at Eastman Kodak after the war. She was married in May 1946 and raised eight children.