Rose Rodrigues da Fonte Verrall (1883 - 1964)
Rose (Rodrigues da Fonte) Verall was much more than "the Tiburon Goat Lady." She has been called the "most important environmentalist in the history of Marin County." In 2008, she was honored in Marin County Woman's Hall of Fame.
She is my relative. Our Azorean Portuguese surname is da Fonte not DeFonta. Our da Fonte family was a wealthy wine making family on the island of Pico in the Azores. The da Fonte family has been in Marin since the 1860's and we are still here. After the great San Francisco 1906 earthquake and fire our surname was anglicized from da Fonte to De Fount (a French sounding surname) due to racism towards the Portuguese which was very prevalent at the time.
Rose "Rosie" Rodriques da Fonte Verall
Rose "Rosie" (Rodrigues da Fonte) Verrall (1883 - 1964)
Giving to the community is an inherent part of life in Marin. But giving one’s entire inheritance of shoreline property to become a wildlife sanctuary is extraordinary generosity. This is the story of an incredible gift by a unique woman known as “Tiburon’s Goat Lady.”
Rose (Rodriques da Fonte) Verall was born in California in 1883 to her Azorean Portuguese parents who immigrated from the island of Pico in the Portuguese Azores. The da Fonte family was a wealthy wine making family on the island of Pico. Her parents, Manuel and Maria Rodrigues da Fonte, were Azorean Portuguese tenant farmers (who were also very wealthy and owned multiple, large properties in Sausalito, Mill Valley and on Mt. Tamalpais) at the Reed family’s ranch in Tiburon. The Reed family’s ranch was a Azorean Portuguese dairy farm. Rosie grew up on the 11 acre knoll along the shore of Richardson Bay, an arm of the San Francisco Bay.
The beach in front of the Reed family’s ranch was named Roger's Beach in honor of Rose Rodriques da Fonte's family as well. Rogers is the anglicized name of the Azorean Portuguese Rodriques surname. Like other ethnic groups in the United States, the Portuguese have modified their names to make them easier for English speakers to pronounce or recognize, as well as to avoid the discrimination often felt by immigrants and their progeny. Some have even Anglicized their names upon naturalization to show their pride in their new citizenship as well.
Our Rodriques da Fonte family is also related to the famed Nunes Brothers boat builders of Sausalito who hailed from Pico in the Azores as well.
In 1876, my great great grandfather Louis (da Fonte Garcia) De Fount, who was 12 years old at the time, fled the Azorean island of Faial by himself on an American whaling ship. The reason why Louis and most boys his age left the Azores is because there was a 10 year mandatory Portuguese military service law that stated that a male must enter the military at age of 14 and serve until he was 24 years of age. In Sausalito, Louis found refuge with his Azorean Portuguese relatives Manuel and Maria Rodrigues da Fonte. Louis found both shelter and much needed work on the Reed family’s ranch was a Azorean Portuguese dairy farms in Sausalito, Mill Valley and on Mt. Tamalpais.
In 1906, after the great San Francisco earthquake and fire, my great great grandfather, Louis (da Fonte Garcia) De Fount and his brother, Jose (da Fonte Garcia) De Fount fled San Francisco after both of their De Fount homes were completely destroyed. They found refuge with their Azorean Portuguese relatives Manuel and Maria Rodrigues da Fonte and their daughter Rose "Rosie" Rodrigues da Fonte. The brothers found both shelter and much needed work on the Rodrigues da Fonte family’s Azorean Portuguese dairy farms.
A romance developed between young John Paul Reed and Rosie, but it was squelched by his family (because of their racism towards her for being of Azorean Portuguese descent. They (John's sister, Clotilde, in particular) would not even let her into their own Reed home) because of their racist stance against the Azorean Portuguese and John never married. Before his death in 1919, Reed gave Rosie and other long-time ranch tenants parcels of his land. Rosie now owned the 11 wondrous acres overlooking the Golden Gate, where she grew up and still lived.
She stayed on the knoll after her marriage to Arthur Verrall in 1933, witnessing the seasons, wildflowers, and flocks of migratory water fowl. Rosie also witnessed developers fill her beloved marshes for construction. She found these changes alarming. She was determined that her property and its abundant wildlife would not fall to the developers.
In 1957 Caroline Livermore and Elizabeth Terwilliger, legendary Marin conservationists, illegally persuaded Rosie (who was suffering from mental illness (hoarding to be exact) and lived in her car on her property at the time) to donate her precious 11 acres to the National Audubon Society as headquarters for the Richardson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. Originally, as it should still be, was named in honor of Rose "Rosie" (Rodrigues da Fonte) Verrall but sadly the National Audubon Society stripped away her namesake and replaced it with the Richardson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary (which is a very strange and ironic name choice because William Richardson was a British whaler who killed whales for a living and was the biggest promoter/facilitator of the whaling industry on the west coast at the time (1820's to 1850's) but this is the name the Richardson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary chose to honor?). In doing so the National Audubon Society essentially erased/white washed this valuable part of Hispanic Azorean Portuguese history in Marin County. Let's be very clear here: The only reason the National Audubon Society has the land today is because of Rosie's generous donation. Her parcel was the key to saving the 900-acre bay from being filled, and to preserving the Tiburon shoreline for public use. Her donation is considered the single most important act of environmental preservation in the history of Marin County. Her gift opened the door to saving San Francisco Bay and protecting all the great bays of Marin as open space.
Rose Rodrigues da Fonte Verrall understood the impact development would have on the quality of life. She had the confidence and support to do something about it. Because of her determination Rose was able to preserve a unique part of the threatened landscape. And generosity! Who among us would give all we owned to the community? Only Rosie.
About those goats: turns out Rose was green before her time. She considered her goats not only as pets, but as efficient lawn mowers. Hats off to Rose Verrall, one of Marin’s treasures. (For more details see Saving the Marin-Sonoma Coast by Rosie’s doctor, Martin Griffin.)
ON MAY 4, 1918, JOHN PAUL REED, GRANDSON OF MEXICAN LAND GRANTEE JOHN THOMAS REED, DEEDED AN ABOUT 11-ACRE PARCEL IN WHAT IS NOW STRAWBERRY TO ROSE RODRIGUES DA FONTE (PICTURED IN 1962) FOR $10. ROSE AND FAMILY, ORIGINALLY FROM THE AZORES, HAD BEEN TENANT FARMERS FOR JOHN AND HIS SISTER, CLOTILDE, AT THE REED RANCH NEAR BEL AIRE IN TIBURON. UNFORTUNATELY, FAMILY PRESSURE (MOST LIKELY FROM CLOTILDE) PUT AN END TO A BUDDING ROMANCE BETWEEN ROSE AND JOHN, WHO OBVIOUSLY CONTINUED TO CARE ABOUT HER. (HE NEVER MARRIED.) BEFORE HER DEATH IN 1964 ROSE GIFTED HER PROPERTY TO THE MARIN CONSERVATION LEAGUE, WHICH LATER TRANSFERRED TITLE TO THE NATIONAL AUDUBON SOCIETY.
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The late Rose da Fonte Verrall, the Goat Lady, is a newly elected member of the Marin Women s Hall of Fame. Verrall is seen at her 80th birthday in 1964.
A modern media icon and a long-dead woman known as Tiburon's Goat Lady are among five women newly elected to the Marin Women's Hall of Fame.
Channel 7 anchorwoman Cheryl Jennings is among the four living women who will be inducted into the prestigious institution at a banquet at Embassy Suites on March 27.
The others are Elaine Petrocelli of Mill Valley, owner of Book Passage, called by the late Peter Jennings the best bookstore in America; educator Lois Merriweather Moore of Novato, longtime educator, civil rights advocate and onetime member of the Marin Community Foundation board of trustees; and ordained Buddhist priest Furyu Nancy Schroeder, who now directs the Green Gulch Zen Center in Marin and has developed a series of educational programs there.
Posthumous honors go to Rose (Rosie, the Goat Lady) Verrall, who lived for many years on the Tiburon peninsula property where the Audubon wildlife sanctuary and the historic Lyford mansion now stand.
The daughter of immigrant Portuguese parents, Verrall grew up amid farm animals on an 11-acre knoll overlooking Richardson Bay. As a young woman, she conducted a romance with John Paul Reed, scion of the John Reed who owned the original land grant for the Tiburon area. When John Paul died, he deeded parcels of the land to long-time tenants, including Rosie.
She lived there until her death in 1964, tending a flock of goats, recognizable to residents of the peninsula as she made her daily walk to Mill Valley.
In 1957, she was persuaded by prominent Marin conservationists Caroline Livermore and Elizabeth Terwilliger to donate her land to the National Audubon Society, which enabled creation of the Richardson Bay Audubon Center.
David Goetz, commissioner of the Tiburon Heritage and Arts Commission, called her donation "one of the greatest single acts of environmental preservation in the history of Marin County."
1834-1918 EARLY HISTORY
1834: John Thomas Reed was granted an 8,000 acre parcel of land, the Rancho Corte Madera del Presidio. It encompassed the present-day communities of Tiburon, Belvedere, Strawberry, and Mill Valley.
Dr. Benjamin Lyford moved to San Francisco and met Hilarita Reed, daughter of John Thomas Reed. They married, moved to Strawberry Point, established the Eagle Dairy. and in 1876 built the Lyford House.
Manuel Rodrigues da Fonte, an Azorean Portuguese immigrant, worked for the Reed Family and lived with his wife and three-year-old daughter, Rose, on this site, part of the Reed Ranch.
1918: Although forbidden to have a romance with Rose Rodrigues da Fonte due to racism against her ethnicity, Azorean Portuguese, and class differences, John Paul Reed, gave these 11 acres of bay front property to Rose as a token of his affection.
Rose (later known as Rosie) remained on the property for the rest of her life. In 1933, she married Arthur Verral and together they raised goats and tended the site's gardens.
1949-1958 SAVING RICHARDSON BAY
1949: Reedport Properties Inc. acquired the title to over 900 acres of submerged tideland, encompassing nearly all of Richardson Bay and initiated plans for a several thousand home community.
1956: Utah Construction Company joined in Reedport's efforts to fill Richardson Bay, and added plans to develop 500 acres of the Tiburon peninsula.
Dr. David Steinhardt, a retired surgeon living on Strawberry Point, purchased the tidelot in front of their home in an effort to block construction. Dr. Steinhardt contacted John Baker, then president of the National Audubon Society to help save the bay.
In October, concerned citizens held the first meeting of the Marin Audubon Society, with Dr. Steinhardt serving as president.
1957: Rosie became concerned about fate of her land and the threat of development. She met Caroline Livermore, President of the Marin Conservation League and agreed to donate her land to the sanctuary with the condition she be allowed to remain on the property in perpetuity.
Dr. Steinhardt saved the Lyford house from demolition and helped arrange a volunteer brigade to move the house by barge from Strawberry Point to the sanctuary property.
1958: The National Audubon Society, Marin County, and City of Belvedere the tideland from Reedport Properties Inc. & Utah Construction Company. The National Audubon Society leased 900 acres of submerged tideland in Richardson Bay and established the wildlife sanctuary.
1962-1964 THE SANCTUARY AND ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION
1962: Elizabeth Terwilliger, a nature educator involved with the preservation of the Bay, began conducting outdoor education programs for third-graders at the sanctuary.
1963: Rose Verral's eightieth birthday, in 1963, was held at the Sanctuary and jointly hosted by The National Audubon Society and the Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society.
Rosie passed away in 1964 at the age of eighty-one.
Today the Richardson Bay Audubon Center and Sanctuary is a place of continuing education, preservation and conservation.