A native of Albany, New York, she graduated from The Milne School in 1968 and she received her BA in Fine Arts from SUNY at Albany in 1972; her MA in Folk Studies from Western Kentucky University in 1975; and her Ph.D. in Folklore and Folklife from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992. Her dissertation topic was on Florida folklorist, author, and activist Stetson Kennedy ("Stetson Kennedy: Applied Folklore and Cultural Advocacy").
She began her professional career in Florida by serving as Florida’s State Folk Arts Coordinator in 1975 and became administrator of the Florida Folklife Program from 1976 to 1989. As Florida’s first state folklorist, she was the prime creator of the Florida Folklife Collection, which later included the work of several prominent folklorists. The collection, today housed at the State Archives of Florida, features many Florida folk artists such as Thelma Boltin, Gamble Rogers, Don Grooms, basket maker Lucreaty Clark, blues performer Moses Williams, and painter Pharaoh Baker.
After helping to establish Florida’s folklife program, including apprenticeship programs, educational videos and publications, workshops, exhibits, and creating the Florida Folklife Collection, Bulger left in 1989 to work as the Folk Arts Director and Senior Program Officer for the Southern Arts Federation in Atlanta. In 1999, she was named director of Library of Congress’ American Folklife Center – only the second person to hold that post since the Center’s creation in 1976. (Florida folklorist Alan Jabbour was the founding director). Dr. Peggy A. Bulger was dismissed from her position as Director of the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress, effective December 31, 2011.
In addition to her public administration work, Bulger is the author of South Florida Folklife, with Tina Bucuvalas and Stetson Kennedy, (1994) and the editor of Musical Roots of the South (1992), as well as producing several recordings includingDeep South Musical Roots Tour (1992) and Drop On Down in Florida (1981) and now re-issued by Dust-to-Digital of Atlanta (2012). Bulger has contributed to numerous articles and presentations. She also served a term as president of the American Folklore Society and she received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Goucher College in 2012. Bulger is a lifelong survivor of Crohn's Disease (a horrible gastrointestinal disease rendering the individual unable to control all bowel functions) and raises money for research into that disease.