The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J.H. Burger, she was born Joyce Burger in the village of Arrowwood, Alberta, Canada, she was raised in early childhood on a farm near her birthplace. Her mother's side was Russian and Romanian, and they were very musical, and as a child, she would sing and dance on the "stage" of her family's back porch. She learned to jitterbug when she was five years old. Her family moved to Montana, where she attended her first motion picture at the age of eight. She then moved to Bend, Oregon with her family, where her father was a foreman at a sawmill. When she was nine, the Burgers moved to Sacramento, California and went to Los Angeles Los Angeles, California when Joyce was 19.
She was active in theatre arts in high school, belonging to the Thespian Group, and had the lead in her junior play, not appearing in her senior play because she had enough credits to leave high school in three-and-a-half years. The Sacramento Chamber of Commerce asked her to enter the 1953 Miss Sacramento Contest, which she did because she wanted the chance to perform in front of hundreds of people at Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium, as well as the chance to get free modeling lessons. Out of the 21 girls running, she won the title, singing "Yours" ("Quiéreme Mucho") for the talent portion of the competition. She also became second runner-up for Miss California, winning in the talent division. Joyce began singing at The Wagon Wheel in Lake Tahoe, one time opening for Burl Ives, and performed for various organizations, fundraisers, and social clubs. When she auditioned for a part of a 24-year-old in the play How Deep Are My Roots?, she lied about her age and got away with it because she was tall for 18. She then got the role of Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet at the Little Eaglet Theatre in Sacramento, California. Meadows was a student of Jeff Corey, procured a scholarship to the Pasadena Playhouse, and thereafter studied with Mira Rostova and Stella Adler in New York City.
She was named Miss Hollywood in 1954. She later went to Hollywood and changed her name to Joyce Meadows.
Meadows's early television roles were in the middle 1950s in such series as Wanted: Dead or Alive, Tombstone Territory, Whirlybirds, Highway Patrol, General Electric Theater, The Millionaire, Richard Diamond, Private Detective, and Harbor Command. She also appeared in films, including the 1957 science fiction thriller about a bizarre nuclear scientist, The Brain from Planet Arous, with John Agar and Robert Fuller.
From 1960 to 1961, she co-starred as Stacy in the syndicated western series Two Faces West, and Wagon Train. She later guest starred on The Asphalt Jungle, Bachelor Father, Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Sea Hunt, The Aquanauts, Bringing Up Buddy, and Slattery's People . She also made three appearances on Perry Mason, including the role of murder victim Sylvia Welles in the 1959 episode, "The Case of the Golden Fraud." In 1965, she portrayed Isobel Moon in the film Zebra in the Kitchen, starring Jay North. After appearing in The Christine Jorgensen Story in 1970, Meadows took a break from acting. She returned in 1987 with a guest role on Punky Brewster sitcom. During the first half of the 1990s, she guest starred on Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.
In 2009, Meadows appeared in the film short A Golightly Gathering.