A Wealth of Information

Portraits of Arabella D. Huntington after her marriage to Henry include this image of her wearing a famous necklace known as the “Morgan pearls,” ca. 1915. The Hispanic Society of America, N.Y.

Portraits of Arabella D. Huntington after her marriage to Henry include this image of her wearing a famous necklace known as the “Morgan pearls,” ca. 1915. The Hispanic Society of America, N.Y.

July 16 marks the 100th wedding anniversary of Henry and Arabella Huntington. They married this day in 1913, after a long pursuit by Mr. Huntington and just four days after signing a prenuptial agreement.

You can read all the details about the merger of these two wealthy collectors in The Art of Wealth: The Huntingtons in the Gilded Age, a new book by Shelley M. Bennett, former art curator and research associate at The Huntington.  Bennett recently completed an international tour to promote the book, speaking at venues from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the National Portrait Gallery in London. She celebrated the publication of the book back in April with a talk at The Huntington; you can download it from iTunes U or click and listen to it here.

The book weaves the storylines of Henry and Arabella with those of two other Huntingtons: Collis, Henry’s uncle and Arabella’s prior husband; and Archer, Arabella’s son. Bennett’s research drew heavily on the untapped archive of the Hispanic Society of America, in New York City, the institution founded by Archer in 1904.

“Don’t ignore the footnotes,” warned Huntington President Steve Koblik when he introduced Bennett before her April talk, “because there is a wealth of information in the footnotes, and they will also tell you about the way in which scholars work.”

“Research,” Koblik explained, “is a dialogue—a conversation between one generation of scholars and another.” Indeed, scholars will often reinterpret their predecessors as they mine the same material.

Henry E. Huntington around 1917, a few years into his marriage with Arabella. Here he poses in the 2nd floor Library of Arabella’s mansion in New York City. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Henry E. Huntington around 1917, a few years into his marriage with Arabella. Here he poses in the 2nd floor Library of Arabella’s mansion in New York City. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

“Once in a while,” noted Koblik, citing Bennett as the latest gold standard, “a scholar discovers new material that other scholars have missed, and in discovering that material changes the nature of the dialogue and challenges not only the interpretations of the past but also sets a new standard for interpretations for the future.”

In one gem from her research, Bennett quotes from Archer’s entry in his diary in 1906: “Went to see Mother . . . HEH [Henry] was there. . . My mother will doubtless marry him, & I am not sure that it is at all for the best. I hope all happiness for her.” This entry came six years after the death of Collis but only a few months removed from Henry’s divorce from his first wife, Mary Alice. Henry’s pursuit of Arabella would go on for seven more years.

You can purchase The Art of Wealth at The Huntington’s Bookstore & More or order it from the store’s website. You can also read an excerpt from the book in the latest issue of Huntington Frontiers, available for download here.

Matt Stevens is editor of Verso and Huntington Frontiers magazine.

4 thoughts on “A Wealth of Information

  1. Without having read the new research, I can only hope that it clears up much of the Arabella & CP fable.. for years I searched for the real story of Arabella.. Time has passed and i only have a vauge memory of what I found but it was enough to make me pray someday the truth would rule.
    The rarely mentioned first wife…40 years.. Was the sister of my grgrgrandmother..
    A true Connecticut lady who did not believe in flaunting her wealth but remained devoted and folowed him cross country.
    I do queestion the myth that CP was self made..If marrying a Stoddard girl makes the man..then i suppose he was. As soon as they were engaged he had the money to partner in a hardware store..
    That Elizabeth died before her husband has certainly directed how the lives of many of her family members were affected. Her forty years of marriage..her support rather than self aggrandizement..is a real contrast to her succesor.
    My grgrgrandmother was Mary Jane Stoddard Emmons. Married to CPs landman Delos White Emmons..who founded Huntingtin WV. So were brother in laws..CP being married to her older sis Elizabeth.. their sister Clara died and her youngest daughter went to CP and Eliz..while the oldest was married to Henry E Huntington..
    That Henry divorced his wife…Mary Alice.. sister of CPs daughter Clara. In order to marry his Uncles wife ..
    . There are still Collis Emmons in our family much like many Huntington kids carried the Howard, Carlton names from our family.
    Another interesting research is tihe photographer, Carleton Emmons Watkins…instrumental in our early pics of the west.. Their fathers.. EMMONS, HUNTINGTON, STODDARD, WATKINS were all in some way related back in New York and Connecticut..
    CEW went west with CP etc. ..and changed the Country..He removed from Sacramento to San Fran..snd his studio along with many of his photos were lost but enough remain to speak for him.
    I would be happy to see the real story play out. When the Ny papers mentioned Arabella ‘of NYC’ they Could never imagine that today…we can access New Orleans, Alabama and Texas records..to see who see who she really was..
    Whatever happened to any oil painting of Elizabeth? Anything Stoddard? Well gone.. But I would like to see Elizabeths rightful place as the 40 yr wife of CP restored…and not just this woman Arabella …raised to sainthood level for being the benefactor of Elizabeths sacrifices…It is said that CP allowed Arabella to be Elizabeths caretaker as she was dying of breast cancer?
    Once that Stoddard woman was out of her way then she moved in on Mary Alice Prentice, Clara’s ( Clara Stoddard Prentice) oldest daughter, wife of Henry… She just doesnt sound like a saint to me…
    Glad that some of the Prentice cousins…whatever their last names, have a hand in the museum…they are my blood cousins…and that is a comfort!

    • Bev the real story of this family is a huge soap opera and the family has tried to sugar coat a new clean version. Collis’ adopted daughter was borrowed ( they say adopted but that isn’t true ) because Elizabeth and Collis wanted a child and couldn’t have one. Clara, Elizabeths sister did not die until old age. Her daughter was taken to New York to live with the aunt and uncle because Clara’s husband was injured when Sacemento was flooded and he was trying to save his store. A few months later the collera that followed the flood finished him off and also took the life of one of the kids. As a widow with children and no man Collis was the family figure head. He took the baby and in return helped her financially by setting her up with a boarding house. I don’t think she wanted to give up her baby after losing a husband and a son.

      Not only did Collis take the baby but fixed Mary Alice ( the oldest daughter ) up with his nephew Henry. I think the idea is to keep all the money in the family by marrying the in laws family.

      Collis’s borrowed baby did not know that Elizabeth and Collis was not her real parents until she was visiting Sacremento from New York and a stranger let the secret out. She was 13 years old and found out that the people she loved were all lying to her. She was a out of control child after that so I think she was sent to boarding school. That child was always a mess. Her dramas made the papers. Like getting engaged to two men and allowing them to duel ( such an old word I am not sure how to spell it.) over her. One died the other was arrested and she didn’t care because she didn’t want either one.

      Collis P was no saint. Arabella has some crazy story buried with her. My guess is that her son might be the child of either Henry or Collis. I would love to see a DNA test on that. Collis met Arabella on one of his trips to St Albans to check on the sawmill Henry was running. I think she was in Virginia and there was a track that made his stay in a boarding house where she lived with her mom part of his trip. I would LOVE to know the REAL story because the cover story that she was married is pure bogus. She had a child and no real husband and a connection to Collis. That woman has some story. And you are right Elizabeth always sounds like a good decent balanced lady and so did the relatives in Huntington.

      Collis got in trouble in Huntington for riding his horse on the sidewalk when something didn’t go his way. The man had control issues.


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  3. Not sure why Arabella is being held to task here. With Collision dead and years gone by, pursued by Henry, it might be a natural course of events for her to marry him, especially with a pre-nup. Apparently, he loved her.

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