Maud Wagner

Who: Maud Wagner, the first known female tattoo artist in the United States

Why She Dazzles: Maud Wagner, born Maud Stevens in 1877, left her home state of Kansas to travel as a circus performer, notably as an aerialist and contortionist. She met Gus Wagner at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, where she traded him a date for tattoo lessons. Gus, who was known as the most tattooed man in America with 800 to show, taught Maud the art of tattooing with black ink and a sharp needle, known as the stick-and-poke method of body modification. Despite the invention of the modern tattoo machine, Maud and Gus continued to use the hand-poked art form and the two became tattooed attractions while working as tattoo artists on the vaudeville circuit. Gus adorned Maud’s body all over her arms, shoulders, and chest with intricate designs which added to the spectacle.

Why You Need to Know Her Today: Maud paved the way for female tattoo artists. She showed the world that women could do the art form, and although she was the minority during her time as a female artist, thousands of women now practice the art of tattooing. Maud also deviated from the norm when she made her body an art canvas in the early 1900s—when tattoos were seen as primitive or freakish. As we all know, tattoos are now the norm and remain an expression of individuals.

What She Would Tattoo—Because She Tattooed It Then: She would do it all. Maud was one of the last artists to tattoo by hand, or without the aid of the modern tattoo machine, which means she had to pay extreme attention to detail and was super patient.

Picture of a rose quartz necklace by Nakamol
Maud was a walking attraction at amusement arcades, vaudeville houses, and country fairs because she was famous for being the woman with the most tattoos in America at the time.

What She Would Wear to the Carnival Tonight: A rose quartz necklace to complement her eye-catching, intricate tattoos. The different colors reflect beautifully against Maud’s black ink tattoos across her chest.

Picture of a tattoo lady on a vintage card by posterbobs on CafePress
The popularity of tattooing began in the late 19th and 20th centuries because circuses employed elaborately tattooed performers and paid them handsome salaries.

What She Would Send to Her Friend: A card depicting a “tattooed attraction” like herself at a county fair. Women covered in tattoos had a rare opportunity for fame and independent fortune at the circus or sideshows. While some performers had been kidnapped tattooed against their will out West, women began to show off their tattoos as a sign of liberation and freedom.

Picture of the Palace of Fine Arts in St. Louis at the 1904 World's Fair
The Louisiana Purchase Exposition, commonly known as the Saint Louis World’s Fair of 1904, attracted more than 20 million people from April 30 through December 1, 1904. It remains the largest fair ever held in the world.

Where She Would Instagram: St. Louis, Missouri, where she defined her future. She learned the art of tattooing here from Gus who later became her husband and father to their daughter Lotteva. Lotteva became a tattoo artist at age nine, but—interesting fact—Maud wouldn’t let Gus tattoo their daughter, which resulted in Lotteva being one of the very few tattoo artists without any tattoos on her body. Another fun fact: Lotteva’s last tattoo was completed on the famous tattoo artist and designer Don Ed Hardy.

Tweet This: Maud Wagner, the first known female tattoo artist in the US, wore patriotic tattoos, and tattoos of monkeys, butterflies, lions, horses, snakes, trees, and her own name #anewlady

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