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Betty Broadbent (November 1, 1909 - March 28, 1983) also known as the “tattoo’d lady” was born on November 1, 1909 in Philadelphia. Broadbent’s interest in tattooing began at the early age of fourteen. It was then Broadbent met Jack Redcloud while working as a nanny in Atlantic City. Jack Redcloud first came in contact with Broadbent on the boardwalk of Philadelphia. He was covered in tattoos, which fascinated Broadbent. This fascination would lead Redcloud to introduce Betty Broadbent to his tattoo artist, Charlie Wagner. In 1927 Wagner, alongside several other tattoo artists, including: Tony Rhineagear, Joe Van Hart and Red Gibbons would tattoo a bodysuit of over 565 tattoos on Broadbent.
Charlie Wagner was friends with the circus man Clyde Ingalls. When Ingalls discovered Broadbent’s passion for tattooing, he offered her a position at the circus. In the same year, Broadbent began exhibiting her art with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. While working at the circus, Broadbent also trained as a steer rider who would perform with circus performer Tom Mix. Later in Broadbent’s career, she learned how to ride horses and mules.
Broadbent’s tattoos varied in theme. On Broadbent’s back she had a tattoo of the Madonna and child. The art on her lower limbs included a tattoo of Charles Lindbergh on her right leg and a tattoo of Pancho Villa on her left. One of Broadbent’s more famous tattoos took over six sittings, a spread eagle that stretched from one shoulder to the other. On May 3, of 1939 the New York Times would quote Broadbent stating, “It hurt something aweful, but it was worth it.” In the same year, Broadbent began exhibiting her art with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus, while also appearing as a steer rider with Tom Mix. While working in a side show in 1939, Broadbent challenged the traditional views of beauty for women during the 1930‘s by participating in a beauty pageant at the 1939 New York World’s Fair.
Alongside exhibiting her art, Broadbent tattooed others herself. She worked in shops across the country including spaces located in Montreal, San Francisco and New York. In 1937, Betty Broadbent decided to take her job internationally. She spent time working for independent circuses in both New Zealand and Australia. When she returned home to the United States, she continued performing and traveling in a side show until 1967. It was in 1967 that Broadbent retired. Betty Broadbent is regarded as the most photographed tattooed lady of the 20th century. In 1981, Broadbent was the first person to be inducted into the Tattoo Hall of Fame. Betty Broadbent died in her sleep while living in Florida on March 28, 1983.
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