ugly law


August 12, 2022

Between 1867 and 1974, several cities in the United States had ugly beggars ordinances, in retrospect also dubbed ugly laws. These laws targeted poor people and people with disabilities. Exceptions to public display were acceptable only if people were objects of demonstration, to illustrate the separation of the disabled from the non-disabled and their need for reform. The Charity Organization Society suggested that the best charitable aid would be to investigate and advise people in need of assistance rather than providing material help. This created conflict in people between the desire to be good Christians and good citizens seeing people in need of assistance. It has been suggested that beggars blamed people in this way. "Pauperism is a disease to the community, a wound to the body politic, and being a disease, it must, as far as possible, be removed, and the curative purpose must be behind all our thought and effort for the class. of beggars." Similar to what Slocum said, other authors have suggested that giving charity to beggars without knowing what should be done with the funds was as "guilty as throwing a gun at the crowd." The term "ugly laws" was coined in the mid-1990s. 1970 by detractors Marcia Pearce Burgdorf and Robert Burgdorf, Jr.


In 1729 England, punishment was sometimes suggested for people with physical disabilities, born with a disability or acquired later in life, who appeared in public. Ugly laws in the United States emerged in the late 19th century. During this period, urban spaces experienced an influx of new residents, which put pressure on existing communities. New residents were sometimes impoverished. This meant that large numbers of people who were strangers to one another now occupied neighborhoods closer together than in small towns, where local institutions such as schools, families, and churches helped to moderate social relationships. In reaction to this influx of impoverished people, ministers, charity organizers, city planners, and city officials across the United States worked to create ugly laws for their community.


Ugly laws prevented some people with physical disabilities from going out in public. Briton Stuart Murray argues that the "civil contagion" of the proliferation of ugly laws is peculiarly American: "Disability disturbs the sense of identity in US contexts in special ways." In 1966, Jacobus tenBroek [en] argued that the limitations imposed on a person with a disability had little to do with the actual disability, but rather with "society's imagined thoughts about the difficulties and risks of disability." In 1975, Marcia Pearce Burgdorf and Robert Burgdorf, Jr. wrote about the unsavory ordinances of beggars in their newspaper article, "A History of Unequal Treatment: The Qualifications of Persons with Disabilities as a 'Suspicious Class' Under the Equal Protection Clause." John Belluso's play [en] , The Body of Bourne, has a scene where Randolph Bourne was confronted in Chicago over an ugly law. While this is a fictional occurrence, the law's description indicates the impact on disability history. In 1980, during a tour of Europe, a performer at the Lilith Women's Theatre, based in San Francisco, Victoria Ann Lewis, gave a monologue about the difficulty for people with disabilities to find work due to the social idea that people with disabilities should hiding or being in a circus. Lewis believed she had been denied admission to a drama school in New York City due to her limp. She noted that they tried to convince her to take a stand behind the scenes. She felt that this was due to the ugly laws and that she could not perform in a