The Ugly Laws: Disability in Public

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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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Standing at the intersection of “disability history” and “poor people’s history,” opens a window on an attractive landscape for scholars to explore.” -Journal of American History

"This book is, as Schweik convincingly caharacterizes it, 'a history of the harm done by—let us allow the phrase some force—lack of regard.' It provides useful background for understanding current efforts to encode and enforce protections for the disabled and disadvantaged."-Marilyn Chandler McEntyre,The Christian Century

“This cultural history is a revelation, rich with insights that let us ponder our own encounters with disability and the categories we make.”

-The Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Shweik combines a sophisticated grasp of disability, critical race and social theory, extensive archival and legal research, close textual analysis, and broad reading in a wide range of historical and other literatures. Her account brings the insights of disability history and theory to bear on systems of exclusion, subordination, and othering more generally in American life as the United States entered the twentieth century... This is a powerful book, essential reading for scholars of disability, race, gender, sexuality, immigration, urban, legal, social movement, and twentieth-century history more generally—indeed, for anyone concerned about law and its power and the limits of that power to define borders of belonging.”-American Historical Review

“Overall, this is a thorough, careful, and sensible work, which is both fascinating and also moving as an account of social oppression of disabled people.”
-Metapsychology Online Reviews

“Susan Schweik... has written a brilliant study of the ugly laws that illuminates this largely forgotten corner of the American history of body impairments, aesthetic norms, and urban spatial regulation. Schweik’s book serves, too, as a powerful demonstration of the vast potential of disability studies, like gender studies and queer theory with which it is frequently allied, to enlarge and to transform our understandings of what is frequently taken for granted as natural, to shed new light on the subterranean recesses of culture, and not simply to assist us to think “outside the box,” but to question whether there needs to be a box at all... The riotous encounters she analyzes, with their mixture of menace, chaos, conflicting cultures, and colorful characters, paint fascinating, Dickensian word pictures that bring to life the illusive, urban crowd and its antagonists in compelling and analytically pointed ways.”-Journal of Social History

“Schweik draws on a deep index of resources, from legal proceedings to out-of-print books, to tell the story of individuals long lost to history.”
-Publishers Weekly

“What is ugliness, and how ugly is too ugly? Perverse though such discrimination might seem today, Schweik suggests that re-examining such laws ‘might prove very useful as a way of foregrounding the inevitable ambiguity of the category of ‘disability.’”
-The Chronicle Review

"Schweik delivers a compelling and insightful examination of disability norms, municipal law, and American culture. . . . She gives voice to the fascinating stories of the unsightly, the alienated, and the excluded. A valuable contribution for anyone interested in disability theory, poverty law and policy, and social history."
-Paul Steven Miller,Director, Disability Studies Program, University of Washington

"The Ugly Laws is a focused and deeply mined interrogation of a familiar cultural figure—the unsightly beggar—that has not until now been critically examined. Schweik is a virtuosa of both close reading and the big picture, merging historical scholarship with analysis of the discursive elaboration and cultural work of the unsightly beggar figure. The Ugly Laws is an essential text."

-Rosemarie Garland-Thomson,author of Extraordinary Bodies

"Thoughtful, comprehensive, insightful, readable, and full of interesting characters and colorful digressions, The Ugly Laws is an admirable piece of scholarship and a significant contribution to the literature."

-Robert L. Burgdorf Jr.,author of Americans with Disabilities

"Schweik draws on a deep index of resources, from legal proceedings to out-of-print books, to tell the story of individuals long lost to history."
-Publisher’s Weekly

"Schweik uses ‘unsightly beggar’ laws in American cities in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to explore fundamental questions about disability, race, gender, and class in new and often startling ways. The book is beautifully written, delightfully thought-provoking, and deeply researched. It is quite honestly the best work of scholarship I have read in a long time."

-Douglas C. Baynton,author of Forbidden Signs

“In analyzing the ugly laws, Schweik reveals how individuals have come to define their identities around work and self-sufficiency, and how the failure of those with disabilities to do so can result in character assassination of these individuals as frauds and morally bankrupt, diseased tricksters and thieves. A subtle and complex study.”


“Part investigative reportage, historiography, anecdote, legal study, cultural critique, and life writing, Schweik’s Ugly Laws is an important and necessary addition to disability studies scholarship and also happens to be a fascinating piece of storytelling. […] There is much to applaud in The Ugly Laws. Schweik extends disability studies scholarship by taking an interdisciplinary approach to the history of disability. Her research and writing provide insights and revelations in regards to disability discrimination. Scholars in disability studies, rhetoric, and related fields of study will find much value in her contribution.”-JAC: Journal of Rhetoric, Culture, and Politics

Publishers Weekly
In 1881, the Chicago City Code read, "Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed... shall not... expose himself to public view." These "ugly laws" began in San Francisco in 1867, then spread through the U.S. and abroad; many in the U.S. weren't repealed until the 1970s. English professor Schweik (A Gulf So Deeply Cut: American Women Poets and the Second World War), co-director of UC Berkley's disabilities studies program, explores the emergence of these laws and their tragic consequences for thousands. Motivated largely by the desire to reduce beggar populations and to expand the role of charitable organizations, in practical terms the ugly laws meant "harsh policing; antibegging; systematized suspicion...; and structural and institutional repulsion of disabled people." Schweik discusses the nineteenth century conditions that created a demand for these laws, but notes how the resulting practices have carried through to the present. Schweik draws on a deep index of resources, from legal proceedings to out-of-print books, to tell the story of individuals long lost to history. Her detailed analysis will be of primary interest to those involved with the history of social justice in the U.S. and the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 18 Illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780814783610
  • Publisher: New York University Press
  • Publication date: 8/30/2010
  • Series: History of Disability Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 443
  • Sales rank: 1,487,040
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Susan M. Schweik is Professor of English and co-director of the Disability Studies Program at the University of California, Berkeley. She is the author of A Gulf So Deeply Cut: American Women Poets and the Second World War.

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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

1 The Emergence of the Ugly Laws

1 Producing the Unsightly 23

2 Getting Ugly 40

3 The Law in Context 63

4 The Law in Language 89

5 Dissimulations 108

II At the Unsightly Intersection

6 Gender, Sexuality, and the Ugly Law 141

7 Immigration, Ethnicity, and the Ugly Law 165

8 Race, Segregation, and the Ugly Law 184

III The End of the Ugly Laws

9 The Right to the City 207

10 Rehabilitating the Unsightly 230

11 All about Ugly Laws (for Ten Cents) 255

Conclusion 279

Appendix The Ugly Laws 291

Notes 297

Bibliography 351

Index 405

About the Author 431

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