Jean H. Reeves was born in Marion, Ohio, on 27 January 1920 and moved to Bloomington, Illinois, at the age of 14. She graduated from Bloomington High School and then earned a bachelor's degree in home economics at Illinois Wesleyan University. Reeves worked as a teacher at Gads Hill Community Center in Chicago.
Reeves joined the Red Cross in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1944 and reported for duty in Washington, D.C., on October 15. After several months of training, she was sent to staging in San Francisco for a month before being sent overseas in January 1945. Reeves was stationed in New Guinea, where she operated in recreation clubs at Lae and Nadzab. In summer 1945 Reeves was transferred to Clark Field in the Philippines to work in Red Cross canteens.
Reeves was discharged from the Red Cross in spring 1946, and married Thomas Long Reeves, a soldier she met while in New Guinea, on 2 March 1946. The couple moved to Pittsboro, North Carolina, and raised four daughters.