Like many female artists of her generation, Gladys Wilson McAdams painted floral still lifes, which she made her specialty, but also executed portraits as a means of support. Born in Cynthiana, Kentucky, a county seat located midway between Cincinnati and Lexington, she enrolled at Hamilton College, a nearby private women’s college now defunct, and then at Transylvania College, also in Lexington. Advanced instruction took her further from home: in 1909, she took classes under George Bellows at the Art Students League in New York, and later enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1928, she attended the University of Kentucky.
For most of her life, McAdams resided in Lexington where she taught art in the public schools and held the post of art supervisor for Fayette County by the time she was thirty. Her paintings were shown regularly in the annual exhibitions of the Southern States Art League between 1936 and 1943; in the mid-1930s, she was active with the Louisville Art Association. McAdams traveled to Cuba in 1925, painting street scenes and gardens while there. The Municipal Art Committee of the City of New York recognized her talents when her paintings were selected for the National Exhibition of American Art in 1936 and 1937.