Germaine Bree was born in France and spent much of her childhood in the English-speaking Channel Islands. She received a licence from the University of Paris in 1930, taught in Algeria from 1932 to 1936, and did postgraduate work at Bryn Mawr College. She joined the faculty of Bryn Mawr in 1936.
In World War II, she took a leave of absence from Bryn Mawr from 1943 to 1945 to serve with the French Army. She worked in Algiers and France, and with the French Resistance in Paris, eventually receiving a Bronze Star and the Legion of Honor.
Prof. Bree became was an internationally renowned authority on 20th century French literature and one of America's most distinguished professors in the humanities. She taught at New York University (1953-1960) and the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1960-1973) before moving to Wake Forest University in 1973, where she was named Kenan Professor of Humanities and won the university's highest honor, the Medallion of Merit.
After retiring from Wake Forest in 1984, she was a visiting professor at Princeton University, Williams College, and The Ohio State University. Her groundbreaking works on French writers remain standards in her field. Prof. Bree's books on Albert Camus (her friend for 15 years) and Jean-Paul Sartre helped introduce a generation of USA teachers and scholars to these voices of the French modern era.