At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, an aerialist named Maud Wagner struck a deal with a tattoo artist. She would go on a date with him — if he taught her how to tattoo. Thus began the two most important love affairs of Wagner’s life: the tattoo artist and tattoos themselves.
Proudly adorned with hundreds of tattoos, renowned circus performer Maud Wagner was unlike most women in early 1900s America. In an era when women couldn't vote and had little say in their own fate, Wagner proudly took control of her body by decorating it with hundreds of tattoos, ranging from animals to military iconography to her own name displayed on her arm. At the height of her fame in the years before World War I, Wagner would earn the equivalent of about $2,000 per exhibition just to show off these tattoos to awestruck crowds — and then give tattoos to those who wanted them.
This is the wild, heroic tale of Maud Wagner, the first known female tattoo artist in American history.