"I decided to get tattooed. I wanted to be independent and to take care of myself."
Betty Broadbent, born 1909, was the most famous tattooed attraction of all time. Nicknamed the Tattooed Venus, in 1923 she moved from Orlando, Florida to Atlantic City to take on a baby-sitting job.
Her interest in tattoos piqued when she met a tattooed man being exhibited on the Broadwalk. During her era, tattoos were not popular at all among women but were more associated with sailors and gangsters.
Originally, she wanted to become a tattoo artist but decided to become a work of art instead because she needed money fast. With that in mind, she convinced herself to get tattooed. Riding on horses in the rodeo, she saved up enough money and ventured to New York for her tattoos.
Over a two-year period, Charlie Wagner and Joe Van Hart labored to pattern her body with an estimated 365 tattoos. At that time, they were among the first tattooists in the world to use electric tattooing machines.
Finally, in 1927, she joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus as the youngest tattooed woman in the world at just 18 years old.
For her performance, she would first appear on stage covered with a robe. Then the Master of Ceremony would announce," And now, Ladies and Gentlemen, the lady's who's different!" I know, it sounds tacky.
She would then unzip her robe and underneath, she had a long bathing suit on that ended four inches above her knees. Unknown to many, Broadbent actually detested the "unethical" tactics her employers used to attract patrons as much as her nickname, the Tattoo Venus.
For those who are curious, Broadbent wore Pancho Villa on her left leg, Charles Lindbergh on her right leg, and had a Madonna and child portrait on her back. Despite her tattoos, she took pains to project a feminine and refined image of herself.
Broadbent was one of the last working tattooed ladies in the United States, retiring only in 1967 from the Clyde Beatty Circus after spending 40 years in show business. In 1981, she became the first person to be honored in the Tattoo Hall of Fame. Sadly, she died peacefully in her sleep in 1983.