Adah Clifford Murphy was born in Saratoga, New York. She and her husband, renowned landscape painter John Francis Murphy, built a home and studio in the Catskill Mountains of New York, where they taught summer art classes in the nearby village.
Murphy studied at the Cooper Union Art School and under the direction of Douglas Volk in New York. She became a member of the National Association of Women Artists in 1914 and was a member of the National Art Club.
Her work was exhibited in twenty-five annual exhibitions at the National Academy of Design in New York, where she was awarded the Hallgarten Prize in 1894. Her work was also included in the 1889 and 1896 annual exhibitions of the Art Institute of Chicago, and at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, the 1912 annual exhibition of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco.