Died today: Maud Stevens Wagner (February 1877–January 30, 1961)
Wagner was the first known female tattoo artist in the United States.
A contortionist and aerialist with the traveling circus, she met Gus Wagner at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition (World’s Fair) in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904. Gus was a tattoo artist who described himself as “the most artistically marked up man in America.” Gus wanted a date with Maud; Maud wanted to learn how to tattoo. A deal was made and Gus taught her how to “hand poke” tattoos. A few years later they were married.
Gus and Maud had a daughter, Lotteva, who started tattooing at nine years old. Lotteva became a tattoo artist too, practicing until her death in 1993. Oddly, Lotteva did not have any tattoos of her own. Maud forbade Gus from tattooing their daughter and Lotteva did not want to be tattooed by anyone but her father.
As an apprentice to her husband, Maud learned how to do traditional “hand poked” tattoos—even though the tattoo machine had been invented—and became a tattoo artist herself. Together, the Wagners were two of the last tattoo artists to work entirely by hand, without modern tattoo machines.
Maud and Gus eventually left the circus and traveled around the United States, working as both tattoo artists and “tattooed attractions” in vaudeville houses, county fairs, and amusement arcades. The Wagners are credited with bringing tattoo artistry inland, away from the coastal cities where tattooing had begun in the United States.
Wagner was born in February 1877, in Lyon County, Kansas. She died on January 30, 1961, at age 83, in Lawton, Oklahoma.
“The American public understands the next president is going to have to be prepared to immediately step in and act without hesitation to end our involvement in the Iraqi conflict.”
— Joe Biden, quoted in The Washington Post
On January 30, 2016, nine years later, the United States was still involved in Iraq.
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