America’s Ugly ‘Ugly Laws’

In the 1880s, you could be fined for being ugly in public. Ordinances across the United States disallowed anyone who was “diseased, maimed, mutilated or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object” for appearing in public places. These ‘ugly laws’ were as real as the American Civil War, and in fact came into circulation just as the war came knocking on the country’s doorstep. And they were no joke either; the laws were not just about morning puffiness or acne breakouts. They came with stringent definitions of ugliness that cut across social classes and economic statuses.

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Three grotesque old men. Image credit: Wellcome Collection


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