Montara: Artist’s Colony Home To The Little Goat Farm (Part I)

While many Coastsiders were involved in the business of illicit alcohol during prohibition, Miss Morris Wagner pursued a more temperate activity.She raised milk goats at “Las Cabritasâ€?, (little goats), her ranch in Montara.

goats.jpg (Photo: Morris Wagner & Irmagarde Richards with their goats at Montara).

Cases of childhood tuberculosis were on the rise—and goat’s milk was prescribed as a safe alternative to cow’s milk, which purportedly carried the germs of the contagious respiratory disease.

Combining the promise of monetary reward with a noble mission, Morris Wagner set out to provide the nourishing goat’s milk needed by the sick kids in San Mateo County where herds of grazing cows were still a common sight on the rolling green hillsides.

To outsiders unfamiliar with Morris Wagner’s background, raising goats might have seemed an unusual career choice for the athletic young woman.

Her father, Harr Wagner, a prominent educator and literary publisher, had risked his savings in real estate misadventures in California and rubber tree plantations in Mexico that failed miserably. Only the literary magazines he published paid the bills.

Morris’s mother, Madge, was a frustrated poet who fervently supported women’s suffrage and did not take her husband’s name upon their marriage in the 1880s.

Friends might have predicted a safe teaching career for Morris Wagner but she exhibited the rare qualities of both parents. While her milk goat business was not too secure financially, there were intangible rewards, the good feelings one gets from doing humanitarian work.

If Morris was puzzled by something about farm animals, she could draw on her father’s deep well of knowledge. He had grown up around barns and stables in Pennsylvania.

Whatever deficiencies Morris had in the field of animal husbandry, she solved by pooling talents with Irmagarde Richards, a close friend who also happened to be a goat expert.

Surely Irmagarde Richards was the inspiration if not the guiding spirit at “Las Cabritasâ€?. In the 1920s, Irmagarde became the president of the California Goat Breeders Association—and she had authored a well-received book about modern milk goats. She was a Stanford grad who had taught Greek and archaeology at the prestigious Mills College in Oakland, the first women’s college established west of the Rockies.

It was in the classrooms and on the grounds of historic Mills College that the student Morris Wagner struck up a lifetime friendship with teacher Irmagarde Richards.

At the time the two women met, Morris had lived in different parts of California but her most recent address was a post office box in Montara.


photo San Mateo County History Museum. Visit the museum located in the historic courthouse, Redwood City.

…To be continued…