Born Ida Lewis in Hamilton, Ontario, she was the daughter of Elizabeth Arthur and tobacco manufacturer, Thomas Lewis. Her younger sister, Eleanor Letitia Lewis, became an actress known by the stage name, "Eleanor Dorel."
Ida Lewis began acting as a child and as a young lady went to England to study dramatic art. Returning to North America she worked in live theatre, using the first name of Julia along with her mother's maiden name. In April of 1893, Julia Arthur made her Broadway debut in Lady Windermere's Fan. Two years later, she returned to England for a time, making her London debut with Sir Henry Irving's company. Like many "legitimate" stage actors of the time, Arthur appeared on the vaudeville stage, in a sketch called, Liberty Aflame. With her growing success on stage in America, Julia Arthur was offered a chance to perform in the fledgling motion picture industry. She appeared in her first silent film in 1907 with Vitagraph Studios under director J. Stuart Blackton. Of the ten films she performed in, almost all were with Blackton. Her last screen performance was in 1919 in a benefit film to aid victims of World War I. It was produced by the "Stage Women's War Relief Fund," a charitable organization created by theatre workers with the American Theatre Wing that was part of the Federal Council of Allied War Charities.
While making films, Ms. Arthur continued to perform on stage at venues in Boston, New York City and elsewhere around the U.S. Northeast. Her final Broadway performance came in 1921, playing Lady Macbeth opposite Lionel Barrymore.
On February 23, 1898, Julia Arthur married Benjamin P. Cheney, Jr., the son of a wealthy Boston industrialist Benjamin Pierce Cheney whose country estate is now the Elm Bank Horticulture Center. They made their home in Boston, with a summer estate on Calf Island, and were patrons of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, donating a number of antiquities.
Julia Arthur Cheney died in Boston in 1950. It is unsure wheteher she had children or not.