Fantastic! Just when I’d accepted I could never be as cool as Mary Bowser, Dita Von Teese informs me I’m as not cool as Maud Wagner either. Who the heck is that?
Wait…that’s her? Crap-definitely not as cool! So, who’s Maud Wagner, and what makes this History Bitch so freaky fresh? Frustratingly, there’s not much information regarding her life. The only facts I could locate come from non-academic sources, so take everything with a grain of salt.
Maud Stevens was born February 1877 in Lyons County, Kansas to David Van Buren Stevens and Sarah Jane McGee. Two stories are told about how she met future husband, Gus Wager. Anecdote #1 says they crossed paths in 1904, at the Saint Louis World's Fair. However, version #2 occurs in 1907, and declares that Maud only agreed to a date with Gus in exchange for tattoo lessons. Two words-bad ass.
Husband Gus, who boasted 264 tattoos, was the artist who helped transform her body into a human masterpiece. Maud herself became America's first woman tattooist perhaps around 1911. She and Gus were entertainers, and Maud performed as a tattooed lady, aerial acrobat, and contortionist. She passed away January 30, 1961 in Lawton, Oklahoma. Carrying on her parents’ legacy, the Wagner’s daughter Lovetta also became a celebrated tattooist, though she had no tattoos herself.
Though I wasn't able to gather more information about Maud’s life online, I understand she’s included in author Margot Mifflin’s “Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo.” Check it out, I’m definitely going to! While you’re waiting for Amazon to ship your book order, check-out these related articles/videos:
Meet the Tattooed Lady (1909)
A Secret History of Women and Tattoo
A Brief History of Tattooed Ladies