Ugly Laws

From the late 1860s until the 1970s, some U.S. cities had ugly laws, making it illegal for people with “unsightly or disgusting” disabilities to appear in public.

They are commonly called the “ugly laws,” but some cities called them the “unsightly beggar ordinances.” The idea of the laws was not to be inhumane, but to preserve the overall quality of life of the community. In a sense, they were their times version of a homeowners association. San Francisco was one of the first cities to create an ugly law in 1867.

It grew ever popular among western and Midwestern cities. The whole state of Pennsylvania adopted ugly laws in the 1890s, though. Other cities that embraced the ugly laws were Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, and Omaha, Nebraska. Sadly, the laws that tried to prevent maimed, mutilated, and unsightly deformities weren’t eradicated in many cities until the 1970s!

Omaha was the first to throw out their ugly laws in 1967 followed by Columbus in 1972. Chicago was the last to follow suit in 1974. Any city that might have accidently had ugly laws lingering had them dismissed when the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed by congress in 1990.

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