The tattooed lady in the circus is still a viable career. While the first tattooed ladies relied on a story involving being tattooed against their will, usually in captivity of “savages” or at the hands of a tattooing father or husband, ladies in the second decade of the 1900s are admitting that they chose their tattoos of their own free will.  Tattoos are becoming less freak-show, and more fashion. Tattooed women are still mostly circus performers or tattooists’ wives, and many women are becoming tattooists themselves. Tattooing is a viable occupation and a valuable skill to add to sword-swallowing and the like and street shops are starting to pop up.

Tattoos in the 1900’s feature religious and political iconography, making the heavily tattooed more “palatable” for a mainstream audience. Note the pharaoh’s horses on our model’s chest; this was a popular motif for chests and backs in the 1910’s. Another icon illustrative of the era is the kewpie doll (as seen on our model’s left shin); these dolls were handed out as prizes at the fair, and consequently a popular souvenir as a tattoo as well. Many archival flash sheets from the early 1900’s feature the trendy kewpie doll designs.

Model: Lindsay Agar

Hair: The Tenacious Bang

Makeup: Sam Darling

Photography/Art Direction: Dan Bushnell

Graphic design: Dan Bushnell, Sarah Gallagher

Maud Wagner, 1911

The muse: Maud Wagner, 1911. Circus performer who, upon meeting the man who would be her husband, agreed to date him if he agreed to tattoo and apprentice her. Maud became a formidable tattooist in her own right. The Wagners’  only daughter, Lovetta, tattooed her whole life in the style of her parents: hand poking.

Further Reading

Famous Ladies



The Decade in Tattoos

Mildred Hull: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/hull_mildred.html

J.F. Barber: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/barber_j_f.html

Bob Wicks: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/wicks_bob.html


Cap Coleman: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/coleman_august_cap.html



Clerk, Carol (2010). Vintage Tattoos: The Book of Old-School Skin Art. New York: Universe.

Mifflin, Margot (2013). Bodies of Subversion: a Secret History of Women and Tattoos. Brooklyn: powerHouse Books.

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