This Circus Performer Was the First Known Female Tattoo Artist in the U.S.

Who: Maud Wagner, the first known female tattoo artist in the United States; February 12, 1877–January 30, 1961

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 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 there weren’t many female artists during her time, 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 a form of expression for many people.

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, without the help of a machine, which means she had to pay extreme attention to detail and was super patient.

What the Ladies Rocked Then: Pearl necklaces, both natural and cultured. Chanel popularized pearls with her brand’s costume jewelry and her personal style. The wealthy wore pearl choker necklaces in the late 19th century, and Kokichi Mikimoto revolutionized pearls when he made them accessible to all social classes in the world.

How You Can Rock It Now: Pearls are refined and feminine, making them a classic choice for any decade.

Where She Would Instagram: St. Louis, Missouri, where she found her destiny and discovered the art of tattooing from Gus, who later became her husband and the father of their daughter, Lotteva. Lotteva became a tattoo artist at age nine, but—interesting fact—Maud wouldn’t let Gus tattoo their daughter. Lotteva was 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.

Shop the Sparkle: Pearl Canvas

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Maud Wagner: Beautiful. Bold. Brilliant.