The Ugly Blog

As my first official post for this blog I will start with something ridiculous:

Up until only a few decades ago, Chicago had a law against being ugly. Well to be fair, it was a law prohibiting public ugliness.

Ratified in 1911, the ordinance made it illegal for “deformed” people to appear in public:

“No person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object or improper person to be allowed in or on the public ways or other public places in this city, or shall therein or thereon expose himself to public view, under a penalty of not less than one dollar nor more than fifty dollars for each offense.” – Chicago Municipal Code, section 36034

So, just to be clear, not only would a person get fined for being ugly, but they were fined every time they were ugly.

Other cities that enacted “Ugly Laws” include San Francisco (the first to introduce the ordinance in 1867), Omaha and Columbus, Ohio. Attempts to pass similar measures in New York failed.

In reality, this was one of many discriminatory measures of the day made against people with disabilities. As public support for Disability Rights mounted, most cities had rescinded their ordinances by the mid-1970s.

Chicago was the last to repeal its Ugly Law in 1974.

Notre Dame professor M. Cathleen Kaveny condemned the law, well after the fact, in a lecture at Loyola University in 2005:

“…the problem with the Ugly Law extends far beyond the fact that it tightly restricts the ability of persons with disabilities to go about their day-to-day lives; it also encompasses the broader messages that it conveys about the relative worth of persons with disabilities. The effects of these messages are not limited to the streets of Chicago, but can influence interactions between people in many other contexts. Consequently, any adequate moral analysis of the Ugly Law Moral must move beyond its concrete requirements and prohibitions to consider these broader ramifications.”

She went on to cite Ugly Laws as a prime example of how more responsibility is needed in the consideration of law as a teacher of moral lessons.

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