Arabella Huntington was the second wife of Collis P. Huntington. After his death, she married his nephew Henry E. Huntington, who was also a railway magnate and the founder of the famous Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, in San Marino, California. She had a son, Archer Milton Huntington.
Compared to her famous family, information about Arabella is scarce. She was apparently born in 1850 or 1851, probably in Richmond, Virginia (see Wark, p. 312). However, in the 1921 passenger list for the ship Aquitania, sailing from Cherbourg to New York, Arabella identified herself as being born in Mobile, Alabama on February 9, 1851. Her first husband was a Mr. Worsham, of New York, who died shortly after they were married, leaving her with a young son, named Archer (some other sources have suggested that they were not actually married, but that she was his mistress). (It has also been suggested that Archer's father was actually Collis Huntington, who legally adopted the boy when he was a teenager.). In 1877 she was able to purchase some property in New York, which was later sold to John D. Rockefeller. She married Collis Huntington in 1884, in San Francisco, California, and was left a widow a second time when he died in 1900. Following Collis’ death in 1900, Arabella continued to spend lavishly—on homes, furnishings, jewelry, and art. She also gave generously to the Hampton Institute, Tuskegee Institute, Harvard University.
In 1902 Huntington gave $100,000 to General Memorial Hospital in memory of her husband to establish the first cancer research fund in the country, the Huntington Fund for Cancer Research. The hospital would become the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.
In 1913 she married Henry Huntington. They were together until her death in 1924, and both are buried on the grounds of the Huntington Library. There is also a memorial to Arabella in the west wing of the Huntington Library building, which was dedicated in 1927, the year of Henry's death.
Throughout her life, Arabella was an inveterate collector of art, jewelry, antiques, and other luxury items. Her particular interests were in old masters, Medieval and Renaissance devotional images, and Louis XIV-Louis XV furniture and decorative arts. At her death, the entirety of her fortune and collections went to her son Archer, who donated many of her paintings to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. These included two Rembrandts, a Vermeer, and several hundred other paintings, most of which had belonged to her husband Collis. The majority of the contents of her primary residence, including most of the artwork, on W. 57th St. were sent to auction. Many of the family's other belongings, including clothing, furniture, tapestries, and porcelain, were bequeathed to other institutions including Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and the California Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum in San Francisco. Some are located within the collections of the Huntington Library itself, and these formed the basis of an exhibition about Arabella in the Spring of 2006 entitled The Belle of San Marino. It is interesting to note that only the small collection of Medieval and Renaissance paintings at the Huntington Library were in Arabella's own collection. They were purchased by Henry Huntington after her death from an auction set up by her son, Archer. The remainder of the objects in the 'Arabella Memorial Collection' at the Huntington were purchased after her death by Henry Huntington and are only representational of the objects she formerly owned, not the actual objects themselves.
Arabella Huntington's son Archer shared her love for art and culture. He was a great friend of non-profit organizations, especially museums. He was also one of the world's leading experts on Spanish poetry and was the founder of the Hispanic Society of America in New York City.