Cassatt was the only American painter whose work was shown alongside that of the French artists during the Impressionist movement.
"She wanted women to be respected and revered, and she wanted to show the totality of what contemporary life was like for women, whether working at a tapestry frame, reading a newspaper, or raising a child," says Judith Barter, the curator of a new Cassatt exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Cassatt moved in 1874 from the United States to Paris to paint. She herself never married or had children, but she is most famous for her paintings of mothers with their children.
"She really wanted to explore the interaction and the nurturing connection between a protecting adult and a vulnerable child," Barter says.
Barter explains that Cassatt's work is unusual because the subjects of her tender scenes do not appear to be stiffly and deliberately posing for the artist.
"The reason is that these people don't know they are being watched. This is not a portrait. This is an arrested moment of time we just happened upon them," Barter says.
One Cassatt work, Little Girl In A Blue Armchair, was submitted for the 1878 universal exhibition in Paris, but was rejected.
"...She was furious," Barter says. "She said, there were five jurors and one was a pharmacist. What do they know about art?"
While Cassatt never achieved the fame of artists like Monet or Renoir, she has left behind a stunning body of work.