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The Ugly Laws

The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public

SUSAN M. SCHWEIK
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 448
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qgf13
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  • Book Info
    The Ugly Laws
    Book Description:

    In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, municipallaws targeting "unsightly beggars" sprang up in cities across America. Seeming to criminalize disability and thus offering a visceral example of discrimination, these ugly laws have become a sort of shorthand for oppression in disability studies, law, and the arts.In this watershed study of the ugly laws, Susan M. Schweik uncovers the murky history behind the laws, situating the varied legislation in its historical context and exploring in detail what the laws meant. Illustrating how the laws join the history of the disabled and the poor, Schweik not only gives the reader a deeper understanding of the ugly laws and the cities where they were generated, she locates the laws at a crucial intersection of evolving and unstable concepts of race, nation, sex, class, and gender. Moreover, she explores the history of resistance to the ordinances, using the often harrowing life stories of those most affected by their passage. Moving to the laws' more recent history, Schweik analyzes the shifting cultural memory of the ugly laws, examining how they have been used - and misused - by academics, activists, artists, lawyers, and legislators.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-0887-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xiii)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-20)

    In Cleveland, Ohio, sometime before 1916, the man whose photograph is on the facing page lost his job. He stands smiling in the photo, wearing white tie and newsboy’s cap, holding a stack of papers, a young man with clubbed hands and feet and a steady, confident gaze into the camera’s eye. A 1916 report by the “Committee on Cripples of the Welfare Federation of Cleveland” records the story of how this man sold newspapers until “the enforcement of a statute.”¹ The statute in question was a version of the subject of this book: the ugly law. I think most...

  6. I THE EMERGENCE OF THE UGLY LAWS

    • 1 PRODUCING THE UNSIGHTLY
      (pp. 23-39)

      In a recent letter to me, Robert Burgdorf Jr. looked back at the moment when he and Marcia Pearce Burgdorf defined the ugly laws in print and recalled why they chose that name for the ordinance:

      As to the phrase “ugly laws,” I believe it was one of us professional staff members at NCLH [National Center for Law and the Handicapped] who first used it as a shorthand. The [Omaha]World Heraldarticle has “ugly” in its headline, and the article focuses quite a bit on demonstrating that a person alleged to have violated the ordinance is “ugly.” But as...

    • 2 GETTING UGLY
      (pp. 40-62)

      The ugly laws, as San Francisco’s example shows, predated “charity organization,” but Charity Organization Society activities led to a proliferation of unsightly beggar ordinances in the last two decades of the nineteenth century. To a significant extent, it is where the charity organizer meets the tramp that the seeds of the ugly law thrive. It is worth our while, therefore, to focus some attention on COS ideology and practice, before turning to examine some of the particular forms of social unrest that ugly laws both provoked and attempted to quell. The first model for the American Charity Organization movement was...

    • 3 THE LAW IN CONTEXT
      (pp. 63-84)

      Most if not all of the problems that civic leaders associated with unsightly persons—begging, vagrancy, contagion, sidewalk obstruction, and so on—were already forbidden by other laws in these cities (laws often used, even after the advent of the ugly laws, to arrest disabled people on the street). Supplementing those existing ordinances, the crackdown on unsightly beggars seems a peculiar kind of overkill. The story of the ugly crowd is, I believe, a necessary one for understanding this law. Without it we cannot grasp the origins and functions of the unsightly beggar ordinances at the intersection of disability history...

    • 4 THE LAW IN LANGUAGE
      (pp. 85-107)

      “Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed, so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person”: this person is made out of words. To start with, this person is made out of the word “person” (with the “any” signaling the broad and arbitrary reach of the law in question): a legal word, rich in discursive import. Not “any one” or “any body,” but—as theOxford English Dictionaryputs it—“a being having legal rights, a juridical person.”

      If there is some comfort in remembering that this is a legal and...

    • 5 DISSIMULATIONS
      (pp. 108-138)

      The above illustration by Thomas Knox from Helen Campbell’sDarkness and Daylight; Lights and Shadows of New York Lifeis meant to clinch the case. Like other chroniclers of contrast, “sunlight and shadow,” “daylight and gaslight” in the large American cities of the 1890s, these two muckand-salvation-mongers paint a picture of urban space filled with deceitfully disabled beggars. Though there is a possibility that a panhandler could be both paralyzed and blind, Knox thinks otherwise. He recounts how scamming beggars’ tin signs were “sometimes printed on both sides, thus giving the beggar two tales to help him along. He displays...

  7. II AT THE UNSIGHTLY INTERSECTION

    • 6 GENDER, SEXUALITY, AND THE UGLY LAW
      (pp. 141-164)

      The figure that was policed by the ugly law begged at many intersections.¹ In the story of the unsightly beggar ordinances the relation between something we now call “disability” and something we call “class” was not additive but deeply connective; identities and experiences of unsightly beggars took shape within a complex web of mutually reinforcing discourses.² Here and in the next two chapters, I follow the by now familiar “critique of ‘single-axis’ frameworks” and principle of “intersectionality” developed by Kimberlé Crenshaw and others, exploring how, as Valerie Smith puts it, the apparent dominance of one term in this field of...

    • 7 IMMIGRATION, ETHNICITY, AND THE UGLY LAW
      (pp. 165-183)

      Manifest deformity posed a supposed threat not only to notions of gender and conventional sexuality but also to notions of American national integrity. Massive immigration in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries meant an upsurge in the ranks of people who, as Welke puts it, “had nowhere to turn when they found themselves disabled” (74).¹ A tensely conjoined mixture of ableism, biologized racism, and nativism emerged in American culture, an equation of the unsightly with the alien and the alien with the beggar. New systems of screening for the diseased, maimed, deformed, and mendicant developed at U.S. borders. In...

    • 8 RACE, SEGREGATION, AND THE UGLY LAW
      (pp. 184-204)

      Three strands of legal discourse defining forms of what Anthony Paul Farley has called “nobodyness” intertwine with the ragged edges of ugly law. The first concerns prohibition of prostitution and indecency. The second involves control of immigration. The third we traditionally associate with race. The ugly laws are part of the story of segregation and of profiling in the United States, part of the body of laws that specified who could be where, who would be isolated and excluded, who had to be watched, whose comfort mattered. Thinking about these ordinances in the terms of segregation reveals the crucial importance...

  8. III THE END OF THE UGLY LAWS

    • 9 THE RIGHT TO THE CITY
      (pp. 207-229)

      At the dramatic climax of Belluso’s biographical playThe Body of Bourne(2003), Belluso’s forebear, disabled writer Randolph Bourne, openly challenges Chicago’s ugly law. From the outset of Belluso’s play, Bourne has grappled with his relation to the categories policed by the unsightly beggar ordinance. The actual historical figure Bourne, as Longmore and Miller have noted, had himself, in the lightning space of two years between 1911 and 1913, revised his landmark essay “The Philosophy of Handicap” to replace every instance of the ugly law’s stark word “deformity” with new terms, “handicap” or “disability” (64).¹ In Belluso’s dramatic biography, the...

    • 10 REHABILITATING THE UNSIGHTLY
      (pp. 230-254)

      Compare de Fornaro’s caricatureof Wilder and the policeman with another cartoon from the same period, printed in the so-called Cleveland Cripple Survey in 1918, which also represents a disabled man encountering the spaces of modernity.

      In this drawing, “designed and executed,” we are told in an accompanying note, “by a professional cartoonist and advertising expert who has had no use of his right arm,” disability literally meets the world. A well-dressed white man on crutches, on his way uphill to the mountains of Success, is greeted by a natty, beaming globe with a bow tie; the artist’s caption, addressed to...

    • 11 ALL ABOUT UGLY LAWS (FOR TEN CENTS)
      (pp. 255-278)

      Long before the Burgdorfs remembered the unsightly beggar ordinances for the disability rights movement in their landmark 1975 essay, unsightly beggars themselves wrote and printed their own histories of unequal treatment. You can find a cache of these forgotten texts (collected by Marc Selvaggio) at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine, the rare book reading room named after Oliver Wendell Holmes, whose descendent of the same name, as a Supreme Court justice, defended the First Amendment and authored, too, the infamous decision legalizing forced eugenic sterilization in 1927 (“Three generations of imbeciles are enough”).¹ The justice spoke his father’s irascible tongue;...

    • CONCLUSION
      (pp. 279-290)

      On October 18, 1973, after nearly a century, theChicago Tribuneonce again turned its attention to the ugly law. The article was titled in no uncertain terms: “A Law That’s an Offense.” “Repeal was urged yesterday,” reported Edward Schreiber,

      of a provision of the city code banning from public places any person “who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object.” The measure, enacted in 1939, was described as an “affront to everyone” as the City Council Health Committee unanimously voted to recommend repeal to the full council. ....

  9. APPENDIX: THE UGLY LAWS
    (pp. 291-296)
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 297-350)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 351-404)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 405-430)
  13. ABOUT THE AUTHOR
    (pp. 431-431)