Today tattoos have become mainstream and it seems that everyone has tattoo including women. However, during the 1800s, it was taboo for anyone to sport tattoos openly especially women. In the West, tattoos were seen as a sign of primitivism and crime. They are even cases of tattoos being used as a form of punishment in antiquity. With more and more contact between the West and other cultures especially with Native Americans, people begin to be both disgusted yet intrigued by tattoo art. The practice of tattooing is picked up by sailors who develop the basic designs based on sailing that become the base from Americana tattoos.
It is during this time that the freakshow act, the Tattooed Woman began to emerge soon replacing the tattooed man and made money displaying her skin art. The Tattooed Woman was usually came from a working class background and choose to become a "freak" by marking their body that would be displayed to a usually male audience in freak shows. Many of these women came up with fictional stories of how they got their tattoos usually saying they were forcefully tattooed by Native Americans.
Early tattoo women usually were inked with sailor designs since there wasn't many designs available and were crude but as tattooing got better so did their designs. Tattooed Women were a major act in freak and sideshows from the late 1800s till the 19995 when the last working tattooed woman, Lorett Fulkerson retired.
Today there are many female performers that have tattoos but they are more of a form of personal decoration or a way to enhance their main performance. However, tattooed women really helped in making tattoos acceptable for the mainstream.
(Nora Hildebrandt; early Tattooed woman)