Pigtail Ordinance 1878

Officials in San Francisco believed that the threat of losing their queues (long, braided ponytails) would keep Chinese immigrants from overcrowding the jails. They passed a law known as the “Pigtail Ordinance,” which forced prisoners to submit to having their hair cut within an inch of their scalp. Although the law applied to all prisoners, the ponytails worn by the Chinese were symbols of identity. The loss of one’s queue was considered a mark of disgrace. According to their beliefs, cutting it caused great suffering after death.

After a sheriff “wantonly, maliciously” cut off his queue, a Chinese immigrant named Ho Ah Kow took him to court. The judge invalidated the San Francisco “Pigtail Ordinance” on equal protection grounds—granting a historic victory for Chinese Americans.