Gladys Maccabe was born in 1918 in Randlestown, County Antrim. She attended the Belfast College of Art, whilst also working as a fashion and arts journalist. Maccabe exhibited regularly with fellow artist and husband, Max Maccabe, for example at the Kensington Art Gallery in London (1949), the Dawson Gallery in Dublin (1949), the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery (1958), and the Richie Hendriks Gallery in Dublin (1961). Maccabe was a member of The Contemporary Ulster Group, which included Daniel O'Neill, George Campbell, and Gerard Dillon
With the assistance of Olive Henry, Maccabe formed the Ulster Society of Women Artists in 1957 as she believed there was an untapped promise amongst the women artists of Northern Ireland. Maccabe served as the Society’s president, with its first major exhibition at the Belfast Museum and Art Gallery in 1959.
In 1961, Maccabe was elected a Member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. The Academia Italia delle Arte e del Lavoro awarded Maccabe a gold medal in 1979 and the following year she was awarded an Honorary MA degree by Queen's University. Maccabe was awarded an honorary membership at the Royal Ulster Academy, and also appointed an MBE in 2000.