The First Female Tattoo Artist






Maud Stevens Wagner was the first - known - female tattoo artist in the United States. Wagner was born in Kansas at the end of the 19th century and lived as a circus performer. But there's something particularly badass about a Victorian woman decked out in pearls and a ton of ink...


Tattoos are in these days, this decade is the first in history where women are more inked than men. The story of Maud and how she became the first female tattoo artist is, in a word, spectacular — particularly apropos given her original profession. Wagner toured across the United States performing as a contortionist and aerialist.

Her future as a tattoo artist all started with the promise to go on a date with a fellow circus performer named Gus. Maud, however - being the badass woman that she is - agreed to it for a trade. She would go on a date with him if he would give her a tattoo lesson. So it was there, at the World Fair, in Louisiana that Maud first started giving stick and poke tattoos. And what love story doesn't start with a mutually beneficial arrangement? Well, this one started that way at least. Maud and Gus eventually married and toured the country, setting up at various Vaudeville homes and spectacles. The couple is pictured, on the right, with Gus performing a stick and poke for show.

The two later had a daughter, Lovetta. Lovetta was a tattoo-ing prodigy, giving her first stick and poke at nine years old — remarkably forward-thinking for a family living in the early 20th century, but it did end up being a family business. Lovetta tattooed from nine years old onward until her death in 1993. Historians and tattoo-aficionados note that Lovetta is one of the few tattoo artists to ever not have a tattoo herself. Maud never allowed Lovetta to be tattooed by her father and ultimately decided she would never be tattooed herself if he was not the one to do it. 

Tattoos have spiked in popularity, walking city blocks makes that evident enough. But thinking back to traditional tattoos, women are often the subjects, but not the creators. Such was entirely the case in the United States, until Maud. Wagner has become an important figure in the history of women in the arts. Learn more about Maud and the other first ladies of tattoo-dom in “Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo,”  by Margot Miffin.



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