Holladay, known as "Billie", graduated with a degree in art history from Elmira College in 1944 and also studied art at the University of Paris. After working for the United States Air Force and the Embassy of China, she married Wallace Holladay.
The Holladays began collecting art in the 1950s. On a trip to Europe, they saw and admired paintings by Clara Peeters, and were dismayed to discover that neither Peeters nor any other female artist was mentioned in the leading art texts of the time. From that point, they began specializing in acquiring significant works by female artists such as Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Artemisia Gentileschi, and Angelica Kauffman.
The National Museum of Women in the Arts
In 1981, Wilhelmina and Wallace Holladay founded the National Museum of Women in the Arts, donating their collection of works by female artists. For the first few years, the collection was housed in the Holladays' home. In 1987, the museum acquired a former Masonic temple in Washington, D.C. as its permanent facility.
Honors and awards
Wilhelmina Holladay was elected to the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1996, and was awarded a 2006 National Medal of Arts, and a Foremother Award from the National Research Center for Women & Families. Also in 2006, Wilhelmina Holladay was awarded the Légion d’honneur by the French Government. In 2005, Holladay received a Visionary Woman Award from Moore College of Art & Design.