Mildred Hull “Millie”: The Queen of Bowery

Mildred Hull, the “Queen of the Bowery”, was born in 1897 and was a tattooed lady and a tattoo artist. Mildred started out her career in the cir-cus as a burlesque dancer and eventually became a tattooed lady. She was tattooed by Charlie Wagner, and unlike many of the early female tattoo art- ists, she learned not from a boyfriend or lover, but from first scratching tattoos out on herself. She struck-out on her own and built a business that stretched out over 25 years until her untimely death in 1947.

She was another of Wagner creations, tattooed ladies as Mae Vandermark (Miss Artoria) and Betty Broatbent. Wagner was New York’s most skilled and revolutionary tattoo artist of his days, plying his ink trade behind the partition of a “five-chair barber shop” on the Bowery, according to a 1943 New York Times article. Men and women in New York City sought his talented hand from the 1890s up until his death in 1953.

The first tattoo shops in New York City initially catered to seafarers who grabbed a haircut and some permanent ink in what is now the Financial District. By the late 19th century, tattoo Mecca had moved to the Bowery. Tattooists catered to all kinds, but the Bowery was soldiers’ and sailors’ depraved heaven (and haven).

Mildred Hull Millie, Watercolour by Pepe
Mildred Hull Millie, Watercolour by Pepe

By 1939 Mildred owned her own tattoo shop called the “Tattoo Emporium“. Affectionately known as Millie, she was one of the few women to work on the Bowery in New York City. Her 16 Bowery shop was located in a barbershop. Several NYC tattooists worked like this, including Charlie Wagner. Old time tattooists were famous for setting up in closet size locations in arcades, under stairways, and even in horse-drawn wagons. A barbershop with a clean space, a male customer base, and a corner for rent was reason enough. In 1943 she was referenced as the “New York’s only woman tattoo artist”. Mildred Hull died of self-poisoning in a Bowery restaurant in 1947, a sad bookend to a career that laid the groundwork for women tattooists to come.