Born in Cincinnati, Ohio and raised in Detroit, Isabel Bishop left home at sixteen to study at the New York School of Applied Design for Women. In 1920 she registered at the Art Students' League and studied with Kenneth Hayes Miller and Guy Pene du Bois. Bishop made her first etching in 1925 and opened her studio on Union Square the following year. She taught briefly at the Art Students’ League in the late thirties. In 1943, she studied at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17 at the New School for Social Research.
In 1932, she joined the Midtown Gallery in Manhattan, with which she remained closely affiliated for the rest of her life. A member of the National Academy of Design since 1941, she was vice president of the National Institute of Arts and Letters from 1944-46, a Benjamin Franklin Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1964, a member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1971, and the recipient of honorary doctorates at Bates College, Mount Holyoke College and Syracuse University. She also received the gold medal of the National Arts Club in 1968 and 1970, the Outstanding Achievement in the Arts award (presented by President Carter) in 1979, and the gold medal for painting from the National Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1987.
Bishop was elected Member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1944, a Benjamin Franklin Fellow at the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1944, and, in 1980, she was presented the Outstanding Achievement in the Arts award by President Carter.
Her work is represented in the collections of the Baltimore Museum of Art, British Museum, Brooklyn Museum, Achenbach Foundation for the Graphic Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Delaware Art Museum, Fogg Art Museum, Hirshhorn Museum, Library of Congress, McNay Art Institute, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Museum of American Art, New York Public Library, Phillips Collections, Tel Aviv Museum, Wadswoth Atheneum and the Whitney Museum.