City Cast

Impressionist Painter Mary Cassatt Was a Suffragist From Pittsburgh

Francesca Dabecco
Francesca Dabecco
Posted on June 6
"Feeding the Ducks" by Mary Cassatt, 1895

"Feeding the Ducks" by Mary Cassatt, 1895. (Picturenow / Universal Images Group / Getty)

Mary Cassatt was an outspoken suffragist and painter known for her endearing portraits of everyday women and mothers tending to their children — a radical display of familial moments for the time. She spent her adult life in France, but her roots were laid right here.

She was born 179 years ago today in Allegheny City, which eventually annexed into the North Side of Pittsburgh. She grew up in an upper-middle-class family; her father was a stockbroker, and her brother Alexander later became president of the Pennsylvania Railroad.

Reflection by Mary Cassatt, 1890

"Reflection" by Mary Cassatt, 1890. (HUM Images / Universal Images Group / Getty)

Cassatt began studying at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts at just 15, but in 1866, she was so piqued by the attitude of male students and teachers (women weren’t even allowed to use live models!) that she decided to study on her own. Her mother and family friends accompanied her to Paris where she studied privately with artists and attained a permit to be a “copyist” at the Louvre. By 1877, she was invited by Edgar Degas to show her work with the Impressionists, or “Independents,” whose work was “revolutionary conceptual” and the genesis of modern art.

You can see a historical marker honoring her near Allegheny and Ridge avenues on the North Side, but it's unfortunately not easy to get to. I hope it will get relocated to a more accessible location.

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