The New York Times City Section did a brief Q&A with Susan Schweik, the author of the forthcoming Ugly Laws: Disability in Public (NYU Press 2009 / History of Disability Series)
Q. I’ve been told that it used to be a crime in New York to be ugly in public. Sometimes it feels that way, but was it literally true?
A. Practically. In many cities in the 1880s and 1890s, groups dedicated to separating the “worthy” from the “unworthy” poor tried to suppress begging by passing “ugly laws.” Their special targets were disabled mendicants who attracted public sympathy.