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The Tattooed Lady: A History
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The Tattooed Lady: A History

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  159 ratings  ·  26 reviews
Living in a time when it was scandalous even to show a bit of ankle, a small number of courageous women covered their bodies in tattoos and traveled the country, performing nearly nude on carnival stages. These gutsy women spun amazing stories for captive audiences about abductions and forced tattooing at the hands of savages, but little has been shared of their real lives ...more
Hardcover, 160 pages
Published November 1st 2009 by Speck Press (first published January 1st 2009)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
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 ·  159 ratings  ·  26 reviews


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Paquita Maria Sanchez
Let's just pretend that it wouldn't suck to live during the depression, barely getting to bathe or see your family, scraping by doing the same things over and over again while feigning enthusiasm night after night as people shamelessly stare you down. Let's me pretend I don't have horrible stage-fright, am not a hidey sort who gets homesick during weekend-long vacations, and am absolutely not so needle-phobic, I had to have my parents hold me down to get shots as a child like I was some kind of ...more
Honey
Sep 11, 2012 rated it it was ok
OK... nice pix... overall, enjoyable. Came off as as a not-terribly-scholarly casual research project cobbled together with a couple of other not-terribly-scholarly casual research projects, but if you treat this as light entertainment and a fun collection of photos, you won't be disappointed. Well, except by the bits on contemporary tattooed lady performers. Ugh, boring strippers with a few tattoos, big freaking deal; it would have been much more interesting to see and hear from some of today's ...more
Jess the Shelf-Declared Bibliophile
A fascinating look into the history of tattooing and the career path of tattooed women throughout history. I loved the ancient history and learning how stereotypes have developed (and sometimes stayed) through decades and centuries.

My only negative statement was that some information was repeated, even three times sometimes. The author probably just thought she was reiterating or driving home a point, but it came across as a space filler and unnecessary.
Rebecca Dobrinski
Oct 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
During the late-19th and early 20th centuries, women chose tattooing to purposely attract a specific kind of attention. Whether it was at the behest of a spouse already in the carnival or to get out of the drudgery of a life of servitude, many young women chose to become The Tattooed Lady – a life explored by Amelia Klem Olmstead in her eponymous book.

While studying Native American women’s history, Olmstead’s research turned up information on 19th century tattooing and tattooed Native American m
...more
Kathleen
Jun 06, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: benicia, 2010
A good looking book with wonderful pix, sources and index and even an attached ribbon bookmark. The writing could use some editing, information was frequently repeated from one chapter to the next and before I became accustomed to this flaw I found myself confused about maybe having lost my place; no matter how elegant or well employed, a bookmark won't help in that respect. I'd like to see more photos and less redundancies.
Shannon Noonan
May 26, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wish this book had a better editor; a historian perhaps? The first two chapters were essentially the same, covering the same topics, women, and stories. Plus there were so many questions not explored. I understand there will be some limitations due to scant historical records, but I feel the writer could've covered a lot more than she did. Wonderful subject, disappointing research and writing.
WaterstonesBirmingham
Feb 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
An interesting look into the history of the tattooed lady as a circus attraction.
The lives of these women who chose to tattoo themselves and how they were perceived by society at the time.
With a wonderful collection of pictures to accompany the text, you really get a feeling for who these women were.

Grace
Ally
Apr 17, 2011 rated it liked it
This book is highly entertaining for the first 40 pages, but suffers from poor editing. Much of the latter part of the text reads like an undergraduate research paper-- a paper that deserves an A but not full-length publication. The pictures are fascinating and from a librarian's point of view the captions provide excellent reference points for resources in this genre.
Stephanie
There were a few great nuggets of information but overall redundant and I remain disappointed.
Gabrielle
“These tattooed ladies made a literal mark on future generations of women, and that mark is a reminder that difference is beautiful.”

I’ve always been fascinated with tattoos: I started talking about wanting one when I was about eight, I got my first when I was seventeen and well… now I have a lot. Not as much as some people I know, but I often am the most tattooed person in the room, especially at work (and yes, I really appreciate that my employers don’t mind – I know many work places are still
...more
Rhianna
Mar 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
A great look at the tradition of tattooed ladies, with lots of cool photos.
Lara Seven
more about dime museum and sideshow ladies, but solid scholarship.
Erin Cataldi
Mar 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
Tattoos have always held intrigue for me (working in #8 this month!) and I was delighted to stumble across this gem, Academic librarian, Amelia Klem Osterud, pieces together a largely forgotten/overlooked past female tattoed performers and accompanies the text with beautiful photographs and illustrations.

Amelia does an excellent job describing the early tattooed beauties and their influence on women's rights, tattoos, and stereotypes in America's past and current culture. This collection is tru
...more
Avril
Sep 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
Just what it says on the tin. A history starting in the 1880s when tattooed ladies started taking the limelight from the previously popular tattooed men, and continuing until the demise of traveling carnival sideshows. Nicely done, even though the author sometimes fails to distinguish between carnivals and circuses.
Emily
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I just love to read about tattooed ladies from the past! Being a current-day tattooed lady, I like to know my history. The stories and pictures from a time when it was scandalous to even show one's legs in public make me feel way better about people ogling my tats now!
Beth Wisniewski
Nov 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting and well researched book by an MPL colleague! Way to speak for all the forgotten ladies with ink, Amelia! As a tattooed library employee of over 15 years, I truly appreciated this book!
Kara
Nov 09, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting history of tattooed ladies. I didn't realize that there were so many!
Sue
May 18, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
After a while I was looking at the pictures, and then it seemed they were all the same person. Freaks and freak shows.
Fox
Aug 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A truly wonderful book about women making their own way in a time when there were so few choices for women.
Jenny D.
May 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Pretty good popular history of tattooed ladies. Must have been fun to research. Lots of great photos. A little thin on content.
May FLower
Jun 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Great information about tattooed ladies, circuses and how they fit into American culture. Lots of interesting pictures and many life stories of the tattooed ladies.
Rachelle
May 23, 2011 rated it liked it
great book. really inspired me to be proud of my tattoos. It was also interesting learning the femme history of tattoo ladies, and how brave they were.
Jessie
Dec 19, 2009 rated it really liked it
A really pretty book. Lots of amazing phots and a peek at life as an oddity. As a tattooed lady myself, I found it fascinating.
Ashley
Mar 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing


I liked this one a lot more than bodies of subversion. Way less into the feminine thing and focused more on the actual women themselves. It also had a lot of really great photos.
Grace
Mar 28, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
A really interesting read, nice to learn about the origins of the women and how they lived within the circus and in everyday.
Sara Zoellick
rated it really liked it
Feb 26, 2011
Lori
rated it really liked it
Aug 19, 2012
Emily
rated it liked it
Jan 24, 2011
Sophie Robinson
rated it it was amazing
Aug 13, 2015
Anni
rated it it was amazing
Jan 05, 2012
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Amelia Klem Osterud is a tattooed librarian and archivist in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who writes and speaks on circus, sideshow and tattoo history. She is the author of The Tattooed Lady: A History, and is a regular contributor to Things & Ink and Z Tattoo Magazine. She holds master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in History and Library Science. When she is not writing, knitting ...more

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