The record of Arabella Huntington's early life is sketchy, and it is not known precisely when or where she was born. It was apparently in 1850 (the date on the mausoleum on the Huntington Library and Art Gallery grounds) or 1851 and probably in Virginia, but it is possible that she was born three or four years earlier than either of these dates. Her maiden name was Yarrington, and her family had connections in Alabama and Texas. She had, as far as is known, two brothers and two sisters. One brother and sister were connected with San Marcos, Texas. Another brother became vice president and general manager of the Newport News and Mississippi Railroad. The other sister married a professor at Rutgers.
The first concrete record is in the late 1860s, when Arabella appears in New York as the young bride of a John A. Worsham, a banker. He apparently died very shortly after the marriage, leaving Arabella with a young son, Archer, born on March 10, 1870. During the 1870s, she appears to have spent considerable time in Texas, visiting her relatives in San Marcos, and living for some time in Austin, boarding with the family of a Colonel Campbell. It is evident, however, that she also retained a residence and connections in New York, and these became increasingly important.
As early as 1872 Arabella was the tenant in a house on Lexington Avenue in New York owned by the railroad magnate Collis Huntington, and their acquaintance may have gone back to before 1870. Huntington's first wife died in October 1883, and he married Arabella in July of the following year. Shortly after the marriage Huntington adopted Arabella's son Archer, then in his early teens.
Within a few years of the marriage, the couple built and furnished a mansion at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-seventh Street, and this marked the real beginning of Arabella Huntington's career as a collector. Collis Huntington died on August 13, 1900, leaving Arabella again a widow, but one of the wealthiest women in America. It appears that Huntington kept Arabella's collecting in check somewhat, because after his death the pace of her collecting increased markedly, and in the first decade of the twentieth century she became one of the most important art collectors of her generation.
She was joined in her collecting by Collis Huntington's nephew and business associate, Henry Huntington (1850-1927). Henry and Arabella were about the same age, must have known each other from at least the 1880's, and it seems that the families of the uncle and nephew were on close and friendly terms. Henry's first marriage ended in divorce in 1906, and he had only collected a small number of prints up until that time. From 1908 on, however, Henry and Arabella were working in closest cooperation in the formation of the art collection that would eventually become the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery in San Marino, California. They were married in 1913.
Henry and Arabella Huntington first occupied their San Marino estate in 1914, but continued to the divide their time between California and New York. The house had been built in 1909-1910. The library, a separate building on the estate, was opened to visiting scholars in 1920. Arabella died in New York on September 14, 1924, after an extended illness, and Henry died in May of 1927. A permanent endowment established in 1919, however, created what is now open to the public as the Huntington Library and Art Gallery, encompassing the library, the art gallery housed in their mansion, and the gardens and botanical projects that cover many of the estate's two hundred acres.
Evans, Cerinda W. Arabella Duval Huntington. Newport News, 1959.
Wark, Robert. "Arabella Huntington and the Beginnings of the Art Collection." In The Founding of the Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, Four Essays. San Marino, California, 1969: 309-331.