Jean McKaye Tanner attended Hope High School in Providence, Rhode Island and began studying at Pembroke College just four months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. During her time at Pembroke, Tanner served as class president as well as she pursued an accelerated program in order to graduate early with her fiancé, Knight Edwards, who was in the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). She and Knight Edwards married on February 19, 1945, and Tanner graduated a few months later with her A.B. in English.
After Pembroke, Tanner attended Midshipman’s School and Communication School at Smith College in order to enlist in the Women’s Auxiliary Volunteer Emergency Service (WAVES). When the war ended, Tanner worked as a proofreader at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and went on to obtain an A.M. in English literature from Radcliffe College and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Rhode Island. Tanner worked as the librarian at the Lincoln School in Providence until she retired.