Field was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to George and Katharine (née Lynch) She began acting before she reached age 15 and went into stock theater immediately after graduating from high school. She attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.
Producer/director George Abbott is credited with having discovered Field.
Field began her acting career in 1934 on the London stage in Howard Lindsay's farce, She Loves Me Not. Following its run she returned to the United States and appeared in several stage successes, before making her film debut in 1939.
Field's Broadway credits include Page Miss Glory (1934), Room Service (1937), Angel Island (1937), If I Were You (1938), What a Life (1938), The Primrose (1939), Ring Two (1939), Two on an Island (1940), Flight to the West (1940), A New Life (1943), The Voice of the Turtle (1943), Dream Girl (1945), The Rat Race (1949), Not for Children (1951), The Fourposter (1951), The Ladies of the Corridor (1953), Festival (1955), The Waltz of the Toreadors (1958), A Touch of the Poet (1958), A Loss of Roses (1959), Strange Interlude (1963), Where's Daddy? (1966), and All Over (1971).
Her final stage performances were in three productions at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in 1971.
Field had to overcome obstacles early in her film career. A 1942 newspaper article reported:
When Betty Field was first signed for pictures, conversation buzzed. "But she's not pretty," was the first objection. "And her mouth is too large."
Field's role as Mae, the sole female character, in Of Mice and Men (1939) established her as a dramatic actress. She starred opposite John Wayne in the 1941 film The Shepherd of the Hills. Field played a supporting, yet significant role as Cassandra Tower in Kings Row (1942).
A life member of The Actors Studio, Field preferred performing on Broadway and appeared in Elmer Rice's Dream Girl and Jean Anouilh's The Waltz of the Toreadors, but returned to Hollywood regularly, appearing in Flesh and Fantasy (1943), The Southerner (1945), The Great Gatsby (1949), Picnic (1955), Bus Stop (1956), Peyton Place (1957), for which she was nominated for a Laurel Award, BUtterfield 8 (1960) and Birdman of Alcatraz (1962). Her final film role was in Coogan's Bluff in 1968. She also appeared on television series such as General Electric Theater, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Dr. Kildare and many more.
Field played Mary Aldrich on The Aldrich Family.
Her first marriage, to playwright Elmer Rice, ended in divorce in May 1956. The couple had three children, John, Paul and Judith. John became a lawyer, but he died in a swimming accident at age 40. Her second marriage, to Edwin J. Lukas, lasted from 1957–1967. Her third marriage, to Raymond Olivere, lasted from 1968 until her death in 1973.
Field died from a stroke on September 13, 1973, at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Massachusetts, aged 60. (Another source says she was 55.) She was survived by her husband, Raymond Olivere, and three children.