Belle Jennings was born in 1882 in Larned, Kansas, and for the first five years of her life, she lived with her family in a sod house on the prairie. They moved to the Point Loma area of San Diego in 1887, where Belle and her siblings roamed the rocky hills, mesas, and beaches, and Belle discovered her love of animals and nature. She attended a one-room grammar school held in her father's home, went to Russ High School (which is now San Diego High), and graduated from San Diego Normal School (which is now San Diego State University). She taught school at the Pala Reservation before she married William Benchley, and they moved to Fullerton, California. They had a son, Edward, who was going to school in San Diego when Belle and William divorced in 1922. Belle came back to San Diego to be with her son and found she needed a job to support them. Enter the bookkeeping position at the San Diego Zoo!