Born in New York City in 1925, Smiley attended the prestigious Dalton School in New York’s Upper East Side, where she studied under two prominent artists: the well-known Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo and the abstract expressionist Vaclav Vytlacil. Tamayo, who is considered a figural abstractionist, also taught Helen Frankenthaler at Dalton. Vaclav Vytlacil co-founded the American Abstract Artist Group, the predecessor of the New York School and Abstract Expressionism that contributed to the development and acceptance of abstract art in the United States. After Dalton School, Smiley went on to major in painting at Sarah Lawrence College where she received her Bachelor of Art degree in 1946.
In addition to painting, Smiley worked at the Hudson River Museum, Yonkers as the Assistant Curator of Exhibitions from 1970-1973 and taught drawing and painting in various New York studios from 1964-1990. In 1960 and 1976, Smiley received awards for watercolors she exhibited at the National Association of Women Artists held at the National Academy, New York City. She had her first solo exhibition in 1962 at the Riverdale Neighborhood House, New York and another at the Carlton Gallery, New York in 1976. In 1972, she participated in the Hudson River Museum juried group show and in 1978 she was invited to participate in the Bronx Museum of Arts “Arte, Arte, Kunst” exhibition. Smiley was a member of the National Art Association, The National Association of Women Artists, and the Cambridge and Concord Art Associations.