In the rather strict and rigorous Victorian time, when a lot of things were “unladylike”, an open minded woman was not afraid to serve as a canvas for ink, and later on, to learn how to make art with ink herself, therefore, opened the doors for women tattoo artists.
Below are three women who achieved the firsts in the tattoo culture.
1.Maud Stevens Wagner the first known female tattoo artist in the United States.
Wagner was born in 1877, in Lyon County, Kansas, to David Van Buran Stevens and Sarah Jane McGee.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, Lotteva, who started tattooing at the age of nine and went on to become a tattoo artist herself.
As an apprentice of her husband, Wagner learned how to give traditional “hand-poked” tattoos—despite the invention of the tattoo machine—and became a tattooist herself.Together, the Wagners were two of the last tattoo artists to work by hand, without the aid of modern tattoo machines. Maud Wagner was the United States’ first known female tattoo artist.
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 startedAfter 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.
2.Mildred Hull-“Queen of the Bowery”
Mildred Hull, the “Queen of the Bowery”, was born in 1897 and was a tattooed lady and a tattoo artist. Hull started out her career in the circus as an exotic dancer and eventually became a tattooed lady. She was tattooed by Charles Wagner. By 1939 she owned her own tattoo shop called the Tattoo Emporium, which she shared with a barber. She learned to tattoo without any help from a husband.She was one of the only female tattoo artists who worked at the Bowery in New York. In January of 1943 Hull attempted suicide, jumping from her second story apartment and ending up in the Columbus Hospital.She committed suicide in August of 1947, drinking a vial of poison.
3.Janet ‘Rusty’ Skuse-the most tattooed woman in Britain.
Skuse, a driver in the Women’s Royal Army Corps based at Aldershot in Hampshire, had her first tattoo aged 17 in 1961, which resulted in her being put on a charge.By 1964 she had 62 tattoos and was becoming widely known.Soon she was spending more than half her Army pay on getting more tattoos at the studio of her future husband, Bill Skuse, at his studio in the amusement arcade in Aldershot’s High Street. She turned down an offer from a showman in Glasgow, Scotland to become a tattooed attraction; however, the offer convinced her to get tattooed completely. Using £100 given to her by her mother as a 21st birthday present, Skuse spent the money on more tattoos, much to her mother’s consternation.
For over twenty years she appeared in the Guinness World Records as Britain’s most tattooed woman. At one time there was a life-sized waxwork of her displayed outside ‘The Guinness World Of Records’ exhibition at the Trocadero in Piccadilly, London. She trained under her husband to become a tattoo artist in her own right. On their retirement Bill and Rusty Skuse opened a boarding kennel and stray dogs home in Norfolk. Rusty Skuse returned to tattooing for a period, running a private tattooing studio in Dereham, Norfolk. In 1979 she was the subject of a documentary titled Second Skin.Janet ‘Rusty’ Skuse died in 2007, following a long battle with kidney disease.