HomeLatest ThreadsGreatest ThreadsForums & GroupsMy SubscriptionsMy Posts
DU Home » Latest Threads » Forums & Groups » Main » Editorials & Other Articles (Forum) » Smithsonian Museum - Ever...

Thu Jul 11, 2013, 01:11 PM

Smithsonian Museum - Everybody: An Artifact History of Disability in America

The Smithsonian National Museum of American History has a new on-line exhibit titled “Everybody: An Artifact History of Disability in America”. http://everybody.si.edu/


The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History will launch “EveryBody: An Artifact History of Disability in America” to explore themes and events related to the history of people with disabilities in the U.S. and offer a new perspective on American history. This online exhibition is a first-of-its-kind image compilation that provides access to objects and stories related to the history of disability that have been collected at the museum for more than 50 years. The information is presented in English and Spanish, and the website is designed to be accessible to all users, including those using specialized software for vision or hearing impairments. All pages on the website follow federal accessibility guidelines, which are outlined on the site’s Accessibility Statement page. The website is available at http://everybody.si.edu.

“Many stories and events related to people with disabilities never make it into the history books or shared public memories,” said Katherine Ott, curator of medical science at the museum. “Knowing this history deepens the understanding of the American experience and reveals how complicated history is.”

From one of the pages:

The way people judged a person’s appearance was different when physical injury, crooked teeth and cavities, smallpox marks, and other scarring commonly affected people. People with such bodies were fairly normal. Then in the mid-1800s, some cities began to ban certain people from public streets. These so-called Ugly Laws were directed at people with disabilities who sometimes depended on begging for a livelihood.

“Any person who is diseased, maimed, mutilated, or in any way deformed so as to be an unsightly or disgusting object, or an improper person to be allowed in or on the streets, highways, thoroughfares or public places in the City of County of San Francisco, shall not therein or thereon expose himself or herself to public view.” —San Francisco “Ugly Law,” 1867

I had not heard of these laws before. Found some additional information that noted how these were used and that some of these laws were not repealed until the mid-1970s:



This Cleveland newspaper vendor lost his job around 1915 for violating the city's "unsightly" ordinance.

Consider the smiling young man in white tie and cap, whose photo appeared in a 1916 report by the "Committee on Cripples of the Welfare Federation of Cleveland." His name is not recorded, but Cleveland's ugly law, banning "diseased, maimed and deformed persons" from appearing in public, cost him his job.

Don't see the problem? Look closer -- the vendor has clubbed hands and feet.

"Although it [the law] seems rather hard," the report states, "he appreciated the meaning of it, but considered it ill-advised unless some steps went with it for providing other opportunity for work for cripples."

Susan M. Schweik, the scholar who found and published this photo for her provocative, disturbing new book, "The Ugly Law," asks this question: "What was it, exactly, that this man, in his guarded, strategic protest, is said to appreciate?"

I think the truly ugly part is that such laws were ever enacted.

0 replies, 1644 views

Reply to this thread

Back to top Alert abuse

Reply to this thread