HerStory April 2019: Maud Wagner

There are so many acts that, once upon a time (and not that long ago), were considered revolutionary for women. Wearing pants. Having short hair. Wanting to vote. Working outside the home. Choosing not to marry. And tattooing. Which brings us to our April HerStory recipient. (Hell, tattooing is STILL considered a revolutionary act for women, and it’s 2019!!) Maud Wagner was an American circus performer (cool!) and, more importantly for HerStory, the first known female tattoo artist in the United States.

Born in Kansas in 1877, Maud Stevens began traveling on the carnival circuit, perfecting her techniques as an aerialist, acrobat, and contortionist. She traveled the country, also a revolutionary act for a woman in those days. In 1904, she performed at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (kind of a World’s Fair type of situation), and there she met Gus Wagner, aka The Tattooed Globetrotter. According to legend, Maud agreed to go on a date with Gus in exchange for a tattoo lesson, and the rest, as they say, is history. Before long, Maud was covered in tattoos, and the Wagners were a power couple on the carnival circuit. Maud began tattooing, along with her circus work, focusing on hand-poked tattoos as opposed to using the now-available electric tattoo guns, precursors to what we have now. She and her husband have also been widely lauded as influential in bringing tattooing inland in the United States; until they began their tattoo-and-tour situation, most tattoos were done in coastal towns. 

As anyone who has fallen headfirst into tattoo obsession (Shannon and Lorajean have both had this experience), once Maud started, she didn’t want to stop. She was covered up to her neck in tattoos, from all accounts done exclusively by either her mister or herself. She had a daughter, Lovette, who also became a tattooist (she started at age 9!), but was unique in that she was a tattoo artist with no tattoos on her own body. Maud wouldn’t allow Lovette to be tattooed by Gus, and Lovette stated that if she couldn’t get tattooed by her father, she didn’t want to be tattooed at all. 

Old Lines is our Maud Wagner-inspired color; it’s inspired by flash you would see at a tattoo shop. A kind of a tea-stained paper with traditional tattoo colors: mostly red and blue/black, with a little bit of teal and yellow poking through. We’re pretty pleased with how it came out, and are looking way forward to seeing it knit up into your lovely creations. 

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