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Member of original Disneyland design team finally gets her due

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Reaching into its archives, Cornell University is dusting off the original printing plate of the 1933 bachelor of landscape architecture degree to issue one more diploma. It is for Ruth Shellhorn, 96, whose storied career as a landscape architect encompassed bringing to life Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom.

A noted landscape architect, Shellhorn who attended Cornell in the early 1930s, wasn't available to attend the festivities of this year's Commencement Weekend ceremonies, May 28-29, in Ithaca. Instead, she received her diploma June 4 at a special dinner in the Los Angeles area. 

Shellhorn's story is well worth celebrating. The world was a very different place when she attended Cornell's College of Architecture (now College of Architecture, Art and Planning) from 1930 to 1933. She had transferred after her junior year at Oregon State University's landscape architecture program for three additional years of study with an emphasis on architectural subjects. After six years of study, she had more credits than necessary to receive her bachelor's degree. However, she was not permitted to take a required final four-credit course in her third year at Cornell because, according to Shellhorn, the dean at that time felt women were not able to handle the heavy course load that final class would create. The dean denied her petition to try. The following year, she could not afford to return to Cornell to take the course. 

Despite her lack of a Cornell degree, Shellhorn went on to become a prominent landscape architect, recognized as a fellow of the Society of Landscape Architects and the recipient of many honors in her field. She was a member of the original Disneyland design team.

After learning about Shellhorn's story from her biographer, landscape architect Kelly Comras, the faculty members in Cornell's Department of Landscape Architecture and the College of Architecture, Art and Planning on May 12 approved the belated awarding of Shellhorn's degree. She had more than enough credits, so the decision was easy.

"We are only sorry not to have learned of her story sooner," says Kathryn Gleason, chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture. Shellhorn's biography has been prepared by the National Park Service for its publication "Pioneers in Landscape Architecture, Vol. 2." The book has not yet gone to press, but when it does, it will contain Shellhorn's well-deserved recognition as a graduate of Cornell.

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