The painting Woman Reading focuses on the simple daily activities of a middle-class woman's life, for example, welcoming guests or friends for tea, answering letters, and reading. The work is fresh and real and it demonstrates her perfection in the color application as well as domestic subjects. The main subject is diagonally positioned, cutting the paint into two triangles. She is sitting at an inclined position of a sofa set and keenly paying attention to the piece of a newspaper she is reading. The atmosphere of the picture is calm and relaxed.
Mary Cassatt loved feminism that occurred in the 1840s. The paint Woman Reading can be said to be advocating women's equality and painted the picture of the new women. This ideal new woman, according to Mary Cassatt's perspective was strong, knowledgeable, and socially active. All these were attributes influenced by her mother, Katherine Cassatt. The painting Woman Reading portrayed women who had dignity and suggested a deep, inner meaningful life. Her paintings mostly depict the outgoing and personal lives of women, especially on the bond between mothers and their children. Her painting abilities were greatly influenced by her mother. This is evident when Louisine Havemeyer, who was a lifelong friend to Cassett, noted in her memoirs that anyone who knew Mary's mother would immediately see that her great talent came from her.
Other figures who had an influence on Mary were Edgar Degas and Camille Pisarro, who would late become friends and mentors. Also, she was privileged to study under Jean Leon Gerome, who was a highly regarded teacher, famous for hyper-realistic techniques and his drawings on exotic subjects. She also joined Charles Joshua Chaplin, who was a genre artist, as her teacher. Degas also has considerable influence on Cassatt. Both of them were highly experimental in their use of materials, trying distemper and metallic paints in many works, including the Woman Standing, Holding a Fan. It was Degas who also introduce her to etching. Mary Cassatt influenced many Canadian female artists who had membership at the Beaver Hall Group. Also, an all-female Cassatt Quartet group was formed by young Juilliard string musicians in 1985 in honor of Mary Cassatt. Her painting The Boating Party was also reproduced on a US postage stamp.