Thursday, January 17, 2013


 Olive Oatman, 1858. She was the first tattooed white woman in the U.S. After her family was killed by Yavapais Indians, on a trip West in the eighteen-fifties, she was adopted and raised by Mohave Indians, who gave her a traditional tribal tattoo. When she was ransomed back, at age nineteen, she became a celebrity. Photograph courtesy of the Arizona Historical Society, Tucson, 1927.

Maud Wagner, the first known female tattooist in the U.S., 1911. In 1907, she traded a date with her husband-to-be for tattoo lessons. Their daughter, Lotteva Wagner, was also a tattooist. Photograph courtesy of the author.

From the book  “Bodies of Subversion: A Secret History of Women and Tattoo,” by Margot Mifflin, published by PowerHouse Books.


  1. Excuse the white stripes, please! It was a bit tricky getting rid of the New Yorker's hyperlinks.

  2. These days, tattoos go hand in hand with S & M in this country, and piercings go with that as well. When I was a young kid in rural Surrey, a very old tattooed Maori woman got on the school bus every day - that was a real novelty. Christ knows how she ended up in Surrey.

  3. That is such a splendid image Tom!
    Olive Oatman's tattoo is uncannily similar to the kuia's moko, really interesting, methinks.
    And as for the tattoo on Maud Wagner's breast of the woman riding a lion ... side saddle. Mmm.

    Yes MF, cool women. If you follow the link you will find pictures of a woman in her seventies or eighties who was tattooed back in the old, freak show days. Looking at her skin is like looking like an old animal - and this is interesting too. She is like an old seal/bear/lion. Maybe that is why we find it so discomforting?

  4. And the prevailing 'first white woman' narrative is interesting too ...