Tattoo culture is thriving, especially among American women that in 2012 were tattooed more than men in the United States (23% compared with 9%). This trend has evolved over the past fifteen years and it is now increasingly common, an element of personal style. But when Maud Wagner got her first tattoo – in 1904 - she gave to society an amazing example of interest in visual art in a time period when most women wouldn't dream of getting tattoos. This heavily inked woman pioneered the way for the others during the era of feminist, abortion rights, date rape and sexual harassment when getting a tattoo meant an act of power and self-determination.
Looking at one of herrare portrait, we can see Maud Wagner perfectly Victorian above her neck, wearing an elegant pearl choker and sequined strapless dress, but the rest of her body could fit right into our 21stworld. The first-known female tattoo artist in the United States was born in 1877 in Lyon County, Kansas. In 1904, while working with a traveling circus asa contortionist, she met Gus, the man of her life who gave her her first tattoo. Gus Wagner, a midwestern man, had been sailing the world in thelate 1800s and returned home covered in nearly 300 tattoos. He claimed to have learned his tattoo technique from tribesmen in Java and Borneo.
Maud apprenticed under her husband, and the two were soon married and had a daughter, Lotteva, who also became a tattooist at the age of nine. Later, thefamily left circus life and started their own business doing hand-poked tattoos before finally settling down in Lawton, where Wagner passed away in 1961.
Beforeher, America knew only two Caucasian women who claimed they were tattooed in circumstances beyond their control. The first was Olivia Oatman, a white woman taken in and raised by Mohave Indians (after her family was killed by Yavapais Indians) who gave her a traditional tribal tattoo on her face. The second was Nora Hildebrandt, who also claimed to have been forced into her tattoos by Native Americans: she was the first tattooed circus attraction in the United States.
These unique, unconventional women couldn’t imagine that the art of tattoing would one day become a part of mainstream American culture.
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