Once a gentlemen’s-only trade, the tattoo industry has come a long way regarding women in the industry. There was, in fact, a time when tattoos were made for men only, by men only. And when women became a part of the culture, it was an interesting start, to say the least. Before the 1960’s, women with tattoos were considered freak shows–in the most literal sense! Today, tattoos can be considered an emblem of feminism, empowering women to accept and make their own decisions about their bodies.
Remarkable changes have indeed taken place, and tattooing has shifted from a subculture industry, to a popular culture interest. We’ll be discussing a brief history of women in tattooing, shedding light on significant women and events that transformed our cultural perspective. We’ll also focus on personal accounts from professionals in the industry, to get a clearer idea of what it’s like to be a woman in tattooing today.
History of Women and Tattoos
In the 1880’s, Nora Hildebrandt’s tattoos became a main feature at the Barnum and Bailey’s circus in New York, and this is where tattooed women could be found for decades to follow. As a circus attraction, she would have her tattoos on display, wearing a revealing getup which, at the time, was considered risqué. In an age before the accessibility of the internet and before nudity was rarely portrayed, these circus acts were very sexualized.
In 1911, the U.S. saw their first female tattoo artist, Maud Wagner, who learned the trade from her husband, Charles Wagner. He also happened to work with Mildred Hull, another exceptional woman who worked as a tattoo artist in New York at the time. Mildred Hull was a hard woman who quit school early, and started out as a tattooed feature at the circus. Years later, she put up her own shop, called the ‘Tattoo Emporium,’ which was run inside of a barbershop, and which she operated with complete independence. She is now remembered as the first woman who learned to be a tattoo artist without the aid of a husband or any man.
To learn more about women's journey from Maud Wagner to the bonafide celebrity female inkers of today read the rest HERE
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