Maud Wagner

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Maud Wagner in 1907

Maud Stevens Wagner (February 1877 – January 30, 1961) was an American circus performer. She was the first known female tattoo artist in the United States.

Life and career[edit]

Wagner was born in 1877, in Lyon County, Kansas, to David Van Buran Stevens and Sarah Jane McGee.[1]

Wagner was an aerialist and contortionist, working in numerous traveling circuses. She met Gus Wagner—a tattoo artist who described himself as "the most artistically marked up man in America" while traveling with circuses and sideshows—at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World's Fair) in 1904, where she was working as an aerialist. She exchanged a romantic date with him for a lesson in tattooing, and several years later they were married. Together they had a daughter, Lovetta, who started tattooing at the age of nine and went on to become a tattoo artist herself.[2][3]

As an apprentice of her husband, Wagner learned how to give traditional "hokey-pokey" tattoos—despite the invention of the tattoo machine—and became a tattooist herself.[4] Together, the Wagners were two of the last tattoo artists to work by hand, without the aid of modern tattoo machines.[5] Maud Wagner was the United States' first known female tattoo artist.[3]

After leaving the circus, Maud and Gus Wagner traveled around the United States, working both as tattoo artists and "tattooed attractions" in vaudeville houses, county fairs and amusement arcades. They are credited with bringing tattoo artistry inland, away from the coastal cities and towns where the practice had started.[6]


Maud Wagner died on January 30, 1961 in Lawton, Oklahoma,[1] from cancer.


  1. ^ a b "August "Gus" Wagner". Lyle Tuttle Tattoo Art Museum. Archived from the original on June 30, 2015. Retrieved June 28, 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Farabee, Valerie (March 28, 2013). "Foremothers of the Tattoo Trade: Legendary Female Tattooers". Tattoo Artist Magazine. Archived from the original on July 1, 2014. Retrieved June 28, 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Lokke, Maria (January 16, 2013). "A Secret History of Women and Tattoo". The New Yorker. Retrieved June 28, 2014. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ Hudson, Karen L. (2007). Chick Ink: 40 Stories of Tattoos—And the Women Who Wear Them. Polka Dot Press. p. 19. ISBN 9781440517075.
  5. ^ Sloan, Mark; Manley, Roger; Van Parys, Michelle (1990). Hoaxes, humbugs and spectacles. Villard Books. ISBN 9780394585116.
  6. ^ Wertkin, Gerard C. (2004). Encyclopedia of American Folk Art. Routledge. p. 510. ISBN 9780203644485.

External links[edit]