Unsung Role Models — Ruth Shellhorn

If anyone is looking for a female role model, I have a suggestion  —  Ruth Shellhorn.

Ruth Patricia Shellhorn was born in Los Angeles, CA on September 21, 1909, to parents who valued education and encouraged their daughter to develop her interests.  So Ruth grew up believing she could enter any field she wanted and, with the support of her neighbor, landscape architect Florence Yoch, she decided at age fifteen to pursue a career in landscape architecture.  Between 1933 and 1990, Ruth created almost 400 landscape designs, worked with some of the best architects in the business, and won numerous awards.  One of her least known but most important projects was contributing to the landscaping of Disneyland.  But since she was working in a man’s world, her contributions have gone largely unnoticed and unappreciated.

Enter Kruth-shellhornelly Comras, principal landscape architect of the firm KCLA in Pacific Palisades, CA.  Kelly first met Ruth Shellhorn as a graduate student at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, interviewing her for a course project.  Recently she finished a biography, Ruth Shellhorn (University of Georgia Press, 2016, 230 pages total).   The book is uniquely organized, beginning with a 63-page “Overview,” essentially a summary of Ruth’s life.  The rest of the narrative describes 12 noteworthy projects from Ruth’s landscaping career.  The book’s weakness is trying to explain landscape designs with a limited number of photos and illustrations, many of them in black and white, in a small-format book.  But nevertheless, the result is a special insight into the life of a real woman pioneer.

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