Jane Gail Brister was born in 1921 in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She graduated from Cheltenham High School in 1938, and then attended Presbyterian College for Young Women [now Arcadia University] in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, on a scholarship. She did not graduate, but took a job at an H.W. Butterworth and Sons factory in January 1942.
In May 1943, Brister joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps. She went to basic training at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and then attended Officer Candidate School in Des Moines, Iowa. She returned to Fort Oglethorpe, where she had two weeks of Intermediate Officer School and was then assigned to a basic training company. In May 1945, she was sent overseas to Camp Lucky Strike in Le Havre, France, and then stationed briefly in Versailles before going to Frankfurt am Main, Germany. She was later moved to the European Theater Intelligence School (ETIS) in Oberammergau, Germany, until she was demobilized in December 1946.
Brister studied journalism at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, but did not graduate. In December 1948, she returned to the WAC when they were brought into the regular army and was assigned to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. From June 1950 to June 1951, she went to an Army Language School for Russian at Monterey, California. She then went to the Intelligence Center at Oberursel, Germany, until 1954. Her next assignment was recruiting out of Fort Hayes, Columbus, Ohio.
In 1956, Brister got into the Foreign Area Specialist Training (FAST) program and went for a year of training at Columbia University before serving two more years in Oberammergau. There, from 1959 to 1961, she worked in a Soviet intelligence training school and as a Strategic Intelligence Officer. She returned to the United States in 1961 to work in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for the Department of Intelligence in the Pentagon. In 1963, Brister was promoted to lieutenant colonel and transferred to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
In June 1965, she retired from the army and was recruited to work for Sylvania Electronics. She later did tutoring and teaching of remedial elementary school classes. Brister moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1995.