Dainty Dotty was the Fat Lady in the Ringling Bros circus in the 1930s and 40s. She married tattoo artist, Owen Jensen, who taught her the art of tattooing. They eventually opened a successful tattoo supply business. It’s believed she was the largest female tattoo artist ever, weighing in at around 600 pounds. Jensen is also said to have tattooed Dotty though no photos of her tattoos are known to exist. She died of a heart attack in 1952.
We love Dainty Dotty and we feel she loved us. Just look at that smile.
Through exhaustive research we believe that Dotty was indeed the Fat Lady sitting next to Major Mite in this famous story about the Rubber Man and Mae, the Tattooed Lady.
Herewith and paraphrasing Albert Parry’s, 1933 ” Tattoo, Secrets of a Strange Art as Practised among the Natives of the United States.”
While on tour with a circus in the summer of 1927, the India Rubber Man fell in love. Professor Henri, in real life Clarence H. Alexander of Ypsilanti, Michigan could stretch his neck seven inches, his arms and legs twelve inches, He was fourty three years old, a professional freak since he was twenty three. His object of attention was Mae, a tattooed gal just twenty, a trooper less than two years. Their associates called them “Tattooed Mae and Rubber November,” sadly noting that Mae lacked a trooper’s psychology. She was a spectator, the Rubber Man was to her, not a fellow player and possible life mate, but a freak. While Henri Alexander was in love with her tattooings she was repelled by his deformity. She was frightened when he used his elastic magic to pass love notes to her over the heads of the fat lady (Dotty?) and the midget (Major Mite?) sitting between them on the platform.
Could this be Dotty’s first exposure to the magic allure of tattoos? She soon after gave up the fat lady career path and took up electric tattooing. A seemingly more gentile profession. She started in Detroit where she met and subsequently married Owen Jensen. Together they moved west to Sunny California, famously establishing themselves as tattoo artists on the Pike in Long Beach.
Here’s Dotty, the tattoo artist. We have always been fascinated with the smiling big woman in the old photos. One of her designs depicted a woman with butterfly wings floating as if in liberation. She also had her day with the classic “Put her ol’ foot through me heart, matey” tattoo image. Could this have been in sympathy for Major Mite? In 1942, Dainty Dotty, who would be Owen Jensen’s future wife, worked with Major Mite (world’s smallest man) at the Ringling Brothers Circus. Although they were on the circuit together, “America’s Greatest Individual Attraction” apparently never won over the big lady. Major Mite was still with Ringling throughout the 1940’s until dejected, he slumped back to Portland Oregon to be near his family.
More of this story has to yet be uncovered. Its hard to say if Dainty Dotty knew Owen Jensen in 1942. He was in traveling back and forth between Norfolk, VA and Michigan, were she she met him. By 1944, she was working at the Palace of Wonders in Detroit as a “fat gal.” She probably grew tired of folks pointing at her and laughing. Rightly so. This would seem to be a tough road to go down. She might have watched the dapper tattooist and thought this looked a little more genteel than her current employment. In 1945, Dot and Owen married, loaded up the black, five window Ford coupe and joined the great migration for the sunshine state, California.
Keep tuned for more on Dotty. Thanks to Carmen Nyssen for her research.