Joyce Lee grew up in the Wimmera, western Victoria. She was educated at Murtoa High School and later at Methodist Ladies' College. In 1931 she began training as a pharmacist, and graduated in 1934. She married in 1938, raised two sons and retired from pharmacy in 1970. Lee had always wanted to be a singer and she studied singing at the Melbourne Conservatorium.
In 1965, Lee wrote her first poem. She taught poetry writing at Victoria College (now Deakin University) between 1981 and 1987, won several prizes and was published in many magazines and anthologies. Among her influences, Lee recognised the worlds of art and drama and also Bel Canto singing. A biographical introduction to Lee, in Walking the Dogs: The Pariah Press Anthology, notes that many hours in church and time spent with music and the classics seemed to be symbols for Lee of something larger. Eventually 'writing poetry, like life, became the search'.