Honor the life and works of Mary Cassatt, ‘Daughter of Allegheny,’ on May 22, 2021 in Allegheny Commons Park.

By John Canning

Photo: A cropped version of “The Reader” by Mary Cassatt. Courtesy of Plum leaves via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Editor’s note: An abbreviated version of this article first appeared in the May 2021 print issue of The Northside Chronicle.

In 1840, as the population of Allegheny Town reached 10,000, its political leaders led a movement to have the community be identified as having “city status.” In the same year, Robert Cassatt, a successful businessman in Pittsburgh, and his wife Katherine Johnston Cassatt, who had been raised in and attended school in Allegheny Town, moved their family from Pittsburgh to a new home on Reedsdale Street in Allegheny. During the Cassatt family’s brief tenure in Allegheny, Robert Cassatt served on the newly formed Select Council of the City, and in 1847 as its mayor. Katherine Cassatt gave birth to a daughter on May 22, 1844, who they named Mary. More than a century and a half has passed since then, and during this time, Mary Cassatt has become recognized as one of America’s greatest artists. Her works are found in the nation’s most prestigious art museums.

A number of years ago the Allegheny City Society (ACS), working with the Pennsylvania Art and Museum Commission and with the French Embassy in Washington D.C., placed a state historical marker near the corner of Ridge and Allegheny Avenues, a location not far from the Cassatts’ former home in Allegheny, to honor this very “Daughter of Allegheny.”

Saturday, May 22, will be the 177th anniversary of Mary Cassatt’s birth. The ACS has organized a “Fete in the Groves” to honor Mary Cassatt. Several talks will be presented by ACS members, which will explore:

  • Cassatt’s family’s roots in Allegheny and Pittsburgh. (It was the Spanish-born Bishop Dominec of Pittsburgh, and the only Bishop of Allegheny, who gave Cassatt her first major commission to paint a copy of two Correggio works for placement in the new St. Paul’s Cathedral under construction in Pittsburgh in 1871.)
  • Cassatt’s significant role in the Impressionist movement as well as her powerful influence on the adaptation of Japanese printmaking to the western world.
  • Cassatt’s role in advising American art collectors on the acquisition of important works of European art that would find their way into homes, and eventually the public art galleries and museums, across America.
  • Cassatt’s deep commitment to feminist movements in Europe and America. This was particularly evident in the massive mural “Modern Woman,” now lost, which she painted for the Women’s Building at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

The ACS program will begin at noon on Saturday, May 22, 2021. It will be presented in “The Groves” section of the Allegheny Commons Park. The Groves is located between Ridge and Western Avenues. ACS will have a number of Cassatt prints and a few books available for purchase for those who are interested. 

Canning is the vice president of ACS.

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