Adams debuted in New York at age ten in Esmeralda and then returned to California. At age sixteen she joined E.H. Sothern's theatre company in Boston and traveled with them to California and back to New York. She later switched to Charles H. Hoyt's stock company and then to Charles Frohman's in 1889. She began to play ingenue rather than children's roles while with Frohman's company. Following that, she spent five years as the leading lady in John Drew's company, where her work was praised for its charm, delicacy, and simplicity.
Adams's greatest triumphs came in performing the works of James M. Barrie. She acted as Lady Babbie in The Little Minister 300 times in New York and 65 times in Boston. She also played in Quality Street (1902) and in What Every Woman Knows (1908). She first played Peter Pan, the role with which she is most closely identified, in 1906.