We recently featured a brief biography on the United State's earliest professional female tattooist, but this time we are crossing the Atlantic to take a look at the life and works of the first woman to take up the art form in Great Britain — Jesse Knight. Check out these wonderful photographs from way back in time that show her tattooing service women during World War II.
Knight was born in 1904 and lived a long life, passing away in 1994. As a teen, she worked in a circus (which was the same case with Maud Wagner, her stateside equivalent — maybe there's something to be said for risk-taking ladies and their career histories) as a human target in a sharp-shooting act. She did this until she was unfortunately shot in the shoulder when one of the shows went awry, prompting her to leave the circus industry. Following in her father's footsteps, Knight's career as a tattooist then began and lasted from sometime in the 1920's all the way until 1963, when she retired. She apprenticed under Charlie Bell and tattooed countless people over the course of those years, helping shape the tattoo industry in Great Britain into what it is today and paving the way for other female tattoo artists along the way.
Unlike the case for many other early tattooists, there is quite a bit of primary documentation from newspapers and other sources about Knight and her career. We thankfully still have artifacts that she actually created or handled, like some of her drawings and writing, which gives us insight into the type of person that she was. Furthermore, there are numerous photographs as well as oral accounts of what it was like to be tattooed by her.
A client of Knight's from the 1960s described the experience of being tattooed by her in the online forum Tattoo News. "Before she did my eagle on my chest, she lit a match and showed me the flame," the client writes. "When I asked why she was doing this, she told me, 'I do this to show you that I have a steady hand even at my age.'" What a badass, right?
Knight was undeniably a true ass-kicker of her day and age, to say the least. Check out the awesome old-school video reel about Knight and her tattooing practice above. It's beyond priceless. And keep an eye out for our next post about pioneers in the industry. Until then, remember, the past, like tattoos, stays with us forever.