Letting the women of yesterday inspire us today…
Maud Stevens Wagner (February 1877 – January 30, 1961) was a circus performer and the first known female tattoo artist in the United States. She was born in 1877, in Lyon County Kansas, to David Van Buran Stevens and Sarah Jane McGee.
Maud was working in a number of traveling circuses performing as an aerialist and contortionist. She met August “Gus” Wagner, a tattoo artist, at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World’s Fair) in 1904, while he was traveling with circuses and sideshows. He described himself as “the most artistically marked up man in America”. She agreed to a romantic date with him in exchange for a lesson in tattooing. Several years later they were married and had a daughter named Lotteva. Lotteva started tattooing at the young age of nine and she too went on to become a tattoo artist.
Maud, an apprentice of her husband became a tattoo artist. She learned how to give traditional “hand-poked” tattoos. Despite the invention of the tattoo machine, the Wagners were two of the last tattoo artists to work by hand. Today coined as ‘stick’n’point’ tattooing, done without the aid of modern tattoo machines and seems to be making a comeback. Maud Wagner was the first known professional female tattoo artist in United States.
As you can see by Maud’s picture, once Gus started tattooing her, he just kept going. Maude donned many of the typical tattoos of her era including her name, patriotic tattoos, horses, women, butterflies, monkeys, trees, lions, and snakes. Maud left the circus and traveled around the United States with Gus working both as tattoo artists and “tattooed attractions”. They frequented county fairs and amusement arcades as well as vaudeville houses (a theatrical genre of a variety of entertainment). They are credited with bringing tattoo artistry inland, away from the coastal cities and towns where the practice had started.
Maud Wagner died on January 30, 1961 in Lawton, Oklahoma.
Thank you Maud Wagner for being one of our pioneers in woman’s freedoms. She was a woman who was not afraid to express herself, and not afraid of change…