The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (History of Disability) by Susan M. Schweik

By Susan M. Schweik

Within the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, municipallaws concentrating on "unsightly beggars" sprang up in towns throughout the USA. Seeming to criminalize incapacity and therefore supplying a visceral instance of discrimination, those “ugly legislation” became a kind of shorthand for oppression in incapacity stories, legislation, and the arts.In this watershed examine of the gruesome legislation, Susan M. Schweik uncovers the murky heritage at the back of the legislation, situating the various laws in its historic context and exploring intimately what the legislation intended. Illustrating how the legislation sign up for the heritage of the disabled and the bad, Schweik not just offers the reader a deeper figuring out of the grotesque legislation and the towns the place they have been generated, she locates the legislation at a very important intersection of evolving and volatile suggestions of race, state, intercourse, category, and gender. additionally, she explores the background of resistance to the ordinances, utilizing the customarily harrowing existence tales of these most influenced through their passage. relocating to the legislation' more moderen background, Schweik analyzes the transferring cultural reminiscence of the grotesque legislation, interpreting how they've been used—and misused—by teachers, activists, artists, legal professionals, and legislators.

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In a 1929 study of its then-current state and extent records, all from a later period than 1883, one scholar posited, “The inmates seem quite content. They feel that after all the almshouse is a place of refuge, where they . . are sheltered from the pangs of poverty. . They are free to come and go as they choose” ( Janice Brown, 10). But we know from internal records that in 1903, at least, inmates were not allowed to leave the almshouse more than once a week, and the Board of Managers’ minutes from later years refer to strong charges of neglect, charges made particularly by blind people (Touro-Shakspeare Almshouse Minutes).

Places, 1867 San Francisco was, perhaps, the perfect breeding ground for postbellum ugly law: a city deeply affected but not overwhelmed by the visible injuries that large numbers of Americans sustained in the war zones. Begging veterans entering or reentering the peacetime city told war stories with their injured bodies. San Franciscans responded ambivalently. On the one hand, military service overlaid impairment with honor—particularly Union Army service (in the week before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed the ugly law, local papers covered the ban on Confederate soldiers marching in the civic parade of discharged soldiers on the Fourth of July) (Alta California, July 1, 1867).

And the words in the code, now identical to San Francisco’s phrasing, our familiar “no person who is diseased, maimed, deformed,” bring a specific kind of infirmity to the forefront of enforcement of the law. NE W ORL E A N S Both San Francisco and Chicago enacted what I call ugly law proper—a specific ordinance with its peculiar wording. Sometimes different language, in somewhat different contexts, appears in city ordinances with clear connections to what I am calling ugly laws. New Orleans’s version is a good example.

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