Ames was born in Chile, where his father, Edward Winslow Ames, was working as a diplomat, but was raised mostly in Staten Island, New York. He graduated from Phillips Andover Academy and Columbia College, and from Harvard University, with an MA in art history. At Harvard he studied with Paul J. Sachs and Edward W. Forbes. He served as director of the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, the Springfield, Missouri Art Museum, and the Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art in New York.  He built the Winslow Ames House, now at Connecticut College, in 1933.
He married Anna Gerhard; they had five daughters.
- Prince Albert and Victorian Taste, Viking, 1967
- Great Drawings of All Time, Shorewood Press, 1962
- "Winslow Ames, Writer And Museum Head, 83". The New York Times. 1990-10-08. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-07-09.
- Ignacio Villarreal. "Connecticut College's steel house by Winslow Ames getting chance to shine again". artdaily.com.
- Archives of American Art. "Summary of the Winslow Ames papers, 1787-1989, (bulk 1960-1979) - Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution". si.edu.