Today, almost a quarter of Americans now have tattoos. Yet there was a time — not very long ago at all — when tattoos were not at all acceptable in mainstream society. To be tattooed was to be an outcast and a freak. Many women found freedom in their decorations, traveling the country, performing nearly nude on carnival stages, making a living as “The Tattooed Lady”.
The first book of its kind, The Tattooed Lady: A History uncovers the true stories behind these tattooed women of the circus sideshow, bringing them out of the sideshow and examining their working-class lives. These gutsy women spun amazing tall tales about abductions and forced tattooing at the hands of savages, but shared little of their real lives, and though they spawned a cultural acceptance of tattooing that we still see today, they have largely faded into history. Combining thorough research with more than a hundred historical photos, this lushly illustrated social history reveals tattoo origins, women’s history and circus lore. The Tattooed Lady uncovers the remarkable women of the sideshow — many of whom were born and live in the midwest.
Amelia Klem Osterud is a tattooed academic librarian from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She has a Masters in history from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and writes and lectures on the subject. The Tattooed Lady is her first book. Visit her blog here.