Avery graduated in 1891 from Wellesley College, majoring in Greek. After in which she started taking classes at University at Albany, SUNY, while working in the university library. By 1895 she earned a bachelor's degree in Library Science. Her Master of Arts degree from Wellesley was in 1913 and a doctorate in art history from Radcliffe College in 1927.
Avery offered one of the earliest classes in museum studies at the Farnsworth Art Museum and by 1915 she introduced the first art history classes at Wellesley. She became the chair of the Wellesley art department in 1929, succeeding Alice Van Vechten Brown. After serving on Wellesley's faculty for 25 years, she retired from Wellesley in 1937 and was named professor emeritus.
After retiring she dedicated her energies to volunteering for the American Council of Learned Societies. In 1943, the council formed the Committee on the Protection of Cultural Treasures in War Areas and they worked on indexing the most important artworks in Nazi-occupied countries.
- Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives
- List of Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives (MFAA) personnel
- Women in the art history field
- "Recently Released Film, The Monuments Men, Recounts Work of Art Rescuers during WWII". Wellesley College. 2014-02-10. Retrieved 2017-12-12.
- "Avery, Myrtilla". Dictionary of Art Historians. Retrieved 2017-12-12.
- "Avery, Myrtilla - Volunteer Assistant". Monuments Men Foundation. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
- Genoways, Hugh H.; Ireland, Lynne M. (2003). Museum Administration: An Introduction. Rowman Altamira. ISBN 0759102945.
- Richter Sherman, Claire; Holcomb, Adele M. (1981). Women as Interpreters of the Visual Arts, 1820-1979. Greenwood Press. p. 48. ISBN 0313220565.