Betty Broadbent, the 'Tattooed Venus'

In 1938 Betty Broadbent, the 'Tattooed Venus' visited Sydney from America at the invitation of the Australian sideshow entrepreneur Arthur Greenhalg. Pix Magazine ran a story on Betty, who at that time had 465 tattoos on her body including a tattoo of the Madonna and child on her back and tattoos of Charles Lindbergh and Pancho Villa on her legs. She appeared on the cover of PIX Magazine on 23 April 1938 and she and the rest of the circus troupe performed at that year's Easter Show in Sydney.  

Betty was born in 1909 in Philadelphia in the United States and her interest in tattoos began at the age of 14 when she met Jack Redcloud in Atlantic City. Redcloud introduced her to his tattooist, Charlie Wagner who gave Betty her first tattoos. By 1927 Betty's entire body was tattooed and she was exhibiting her art with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus where she also trained as a steer rider and performed with Tom Mix. Betty also learnt the trade and tattooed others, working in studios in Montreal, San Francisco and New York.

Betty retired in 1967 and is often referred to as the most photographed tattooed lady of the 20th century. She died in her sleep on March 28, 1983.

In 2019  the Library completed the digitisation of over 9000 PIX Magazine negatives which brings to life, in vivid detail, images only previously seen reproduced in half-tones in the magazine pages. Pix Magazine's photos of the Betty Broadbent are available online through the Library catalogue.

The digitisation project is part of the State Library's Digital Excellence Program a major initiative supported by the NSW Government.

Geoff Barker, Senior Curator, State Library of New South Wales

 

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