Iris Miyoko Harris was born in Japan to an English father and Japanese mother. She lived there until she was twelve. From an early age Iris was a committed vegetarian. In her final year at school (1927) she attended Port Talbot County School in South Wales. there she wsa immensely affected by the mass unemployment of the time. The impact of poverty became a central concern in her life. She spent more than sixty years associated with the Bedford Institute Association.
In 1930 she was a founder member of the Youth Hostel Association.
Iris worked as a research assistant to Bronislaw Malinowski, the anthropologist and linguist (often seen as the founder of modern anthropology).
From 1941 to 1946 Iris was Advisory and Relief Secretary at International Student Service in London and Oxford (this later became World University Service). Her's was the face and the heart that so many refugee students would remember as she helped them with countless problems of finance and accommodation.
Iris later taught in three junior schools and entered research at the Institute of Child Health