Addison was born enslaved on December 8, 1861, at Upperville in Fauquier County, the third of six children and second of four daughters of Charles Addison and Elizabeth Anderson Addison. After emancipation, her father purchased land there and farmed. Addison acquired some schooling locally before going to Philadelphia to attend the Institute for Colored Youth, a private school with a talented black faculty, from which she graduated with a teacher’s diploma in 1882.
Addison began teaching in Loudoun County but in 1886 moved to the First Ward Colored School in Roanoke. In January 1887, after the principal died, Addison took his place as the interim head of a school with 217 enrolled students and only two teachers. A larger school building was ready for occupancy in 1888, but by then a male principal had been found and Addison was demoted to assistant principal and teacher. Thirty years passed before she became a principal again.
In spite of inadequate facilities and barriers to her advancement, Addison dedicated her life to education in Roanoke. The name of the First Ward Colored School was changed to the Gainsboro School, and principals came and went, but Miss Lucy Addison, as she was known, remained a constant for generations of students. She periodically refreshed her classroom experience with summer courses at Howard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute (later Hampton University), and other schools, even though the travel likely strained her finances. Black teachers earned less than white teachers, and women pedagogues of both races earned less than their male counterparts.
In 1918 Addison became principal of the new Harrison School. One of the students recalled that she was prim and proper in appearance, but all considered her fair and approachable. The Harrison School officially offered course work only through grade eight, but Addison arranged for high school classes to be taught as well. She gradually added all the elements of a full high-school curriculum, and in 1924 the State Board of Education accredited the Harrison School as a secondary school. Until then, African Americans of Roanoke who desired a high school diploma had to go elsewhere to earn one.
Addison retired at the end of the 1926–1927 school year and moved to Washington, D.C., but she returned at the beginning of the next session to assist her successor. By then construction was underway on a new high school for blacks. In January 1928 the city school board announced that the school would be named Lucy Addison High School, Roanoke’s first public building named after one of its own citizens. Addison attended the school’s formal opening on April 19, 1929.
In Roanoke, Addison resided in the household of physician Isaac David Burrell, for whom Burrell Memorial Hospital was named. She was a member of the hospital’s board of trustees and chaired its Woman’s Auxiliary. She also served on the board of the Industrial Home School for Colored Girls at Peaks, in Hanover County, from 1915 to 1927, and for twenty-seven years as superintendent of the Sunday school of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church. Addison never married and in retirement lived with a sister. Chronic nephritis made her a near-invalid, and she died in Washington, D.C., on November 13, 1937. She was buried in Harmony Cemetery in Washington. Her remains were reinterred in 1960 when the cemetery was moved to National Harmony Memorial Park, in Prince George’s County, Maryland.