The ’30s marks the beginning of the end, and a slow decline into the so-called “dark ages” of tattoos in mid-20th Century America, with the convergence of two things: One, the popularity of the tattooed circus attraction and two, the Great Depression.

The success of tattooed men and women of the 1910’s and 1920’s encouraged masses of people, faced with crushing poverty and desperate to find any kind of income, risk everything to cover themselves in tattoos in the hopes of getting circus work. Unfortunately, this rush saturates the market and makes audiences jaded. They’d seen it by now and it just wasn’t interesting anymore. Few performers rose to the top and were successful.

Betty Broadbent was an exception to the rule: she entered the 1937 World Fair beauty pageant in all her tattooed glory. Probably a publicity stunt by her employer, Ringling Brothers or Barnum and Bailey Circuses, Broadbent nonetheless remains today as an icon that challenges our perceptions of feminine beauty. Broadbent enjoyed a long, fulfilling career as a performer in the circus and later as a tattoo artist, retiring in the late 1960’s.

Model: Shauna Jones

Hair: Katelyn Smolne/The Tenacious Bang

Makeup: Sam Darling

Photography: Dan Bushnell

Art Direction/Graphic Design: Dan Bushnell and Sarah Gallagher

Betty Broadbent, 1937 Worlds Fair beauty pageant contestant. Tattooed by Charlie Wagner in the late 20s, Broadbent enjoyed a long career with Barnum and Bailey's and was the first person inducted into the Tattoo Hall of Fame.

The muse: Betty Broadbent, 1937 Worlds Fair beauty pageant contestant

Further Reading:

The Rose of No-man’s Land: Pretty Boy Floyd was reported to sport this tattoo; Bert Grimm claims to have tattooed it on him before it was known he would be America’s Most Wanted: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/floyd_pretty_boy.html

Tattoos inspired by:

C.J. Eddy http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/eddy_cj.htm

Percy Waters: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/waters_percy.html

Joe Darpel: http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/darpel.html


Betty Broadbent:http://www.tattooarchive.com/tattoo_history/broadbent_betty.html

The 1930s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1930s

Art Deco: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Deco

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