Jean Marie Bright was born on 25 September 1915, the daughter of farmers John and Lollie Bright of Rutherford County, North Carolina. She graduated from the Allen Home High School in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1933, and then attended North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, from which she graduated in 1939.
In the late 1930s and early 1940s Bright moved between various cities in North Carolina and New York for teaching various jobs. In summer 1942 she moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a clerk-typist in the adjutant general's office at the Pentagon. The following year she returned to Greensboro and served as director of recreation for the Windsor Community Center in Greensboro.
Bright joined the American Red Cross in September 1944. After training in Washington, and at Camp Pickett, Virginia, she was sent to Camp Pendleton in California for embarkation to the Pacific in December 1944. Bright worked in recreational clubs in Finchaven, New Guinea, for almost a year, and then in Tokyo, Japan, until May 1946.
Following her discharge, Bright worked at several jobs, including as a clerical worker at Macy's in Washington, at the Harvard Coop in Massachusetts, and as a substitute teacher in Louisburg, North Carolina. She received a masterï¿½s degree in English from Columbia University in 1953 and returned to Greensboro, where she taught at North Carolina A&T State University until 1978. In 1979, she set up a summer camp for low-income children in Rutherford County, North Carolina.