At the start of the Franco-Prussian War, Cassatt returned to the United States to live with her family. During that time, her parents provided her basic necessities but refused to purchase any art supplies. She was able to return to Europe when the Archbishop of Pittsburgh commissioned a series of paintings which required her being in Italy. Afterward she traveled throughout Europe.
By 1872 she had acquired a mature style and was studying in Paris with the patriarchal French Impressionist Jacob-Abraham-Camille Pissaro. She met Edgar Degas shortly after that and his work and friendship were influential to her craft. Her success within the French Impressionistic circle continued until the ill health of her sister and her mother, who had moved to Paris in the late 1870's, prompted her to quit painting to take care of them. By the mid-1880's, her sister had died and her mother had recovered and Cassatt was painting again.
The 1890's marked the beginning of the most creative and productive period of Cassatt's life. She had broken with the Impressionistic movement, developing a style which observed life through a personal and yet unsentimental lens. This approach was particularly evident in the works for which she is best known: intimate portraits of mother and child in everyday settings. During this time, she also began mentoring other American female artists and advising collectors.
Around 1911, Cassatt developed chronic health issues and by 1914 blindness forced her to cease painting. She then became involved in women's suffrage, showing her paintings at an exhibition in support of the movement.