Mrs. Arabella D. Huntington listens to Swami Vivakananda -March 1900

by Nancy Armitage

Giovanni Boldini’s portrait called “Le Femme an Chapeau Noir” (Women in Black Hat) a sketchy pastel on linen, in a private collection. To me, this portrait looks exactly like young Arabella Huntington! A perfect illustration of a Gilded Age woman in Victorian day dress with hat , lipstick, & fashionable clothes to go to a interesting motivational speaker and lecture or enjoy afternoon tea.

Swami Vivekananda, a great Hindu leader & teacher of spirituality gave lectures to the general public in the Gilded Age. He really became famous on a global level at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893; there he gave a session at the World Parliament of Religion. His goal was to service humanity after giving away his worldly pleasures. It was said that he was one of the greatest spiritual leaders of India. He introduced the world to Indian Vendanta & the philosophies of yoga. He would introduce his hosts to amazing flavors of Indian food & Indian tea (Chai tea).

Glorious Indian food dishes.

The Swami Vivekananda, had a great love of beautiful spicy Indian food & cooking, also. He had a great passion for tea: trying different teas on his travels. He was a meat eater, he liked fish & lamb mutton; bread (India naan bread), & he especially loved ice cream after dinner. He loved fried potatoes that were cooked in butter & curry.

As a young boy, he had a food club, he collected French cookbooks & enjoyed Khichdi, a dish of cooked with eggs, peas, & potatoes. While traveling, he cooked Indian food for people & households who hosted him; adding flavorful Indian spices to their food. He would try green leafy vegetables like spinach & asparagus. He enjoy fresh fruits like mangos (maybe a mango lassi drink), litchis, & apples. Information from The unexplored side of Swami Vivekananda, his love of food by Kartikeya Shanker July 17, 2021

His quotes are very inspirational: “We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.” Swami Vinekananda

The influential Swami, gave these Gilded Age series of lectures to many people & in many different locations. These lectures were places that Mrs. Arabella Huntington frequented, like cruise ships, private clubs, & interested people’s homes in New York City, and San Francisco, etc. They would welcome people with tea (maybe Indian Chai tea) or coffee, fruit salad, tea sandwiches, & teacakes. They would provide chairs for guests to sit down in their lecture hall or their mansion’s ball room.

Beautiful & colorful Indian food, Naan bread, maybe Tandoori Chicken with rice & cilantro, with spicy delicious sauces like coriander chutney.

“Take up a idea. Make that one idea your life, think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain muscles, nerves, every part of your body be full of that idea, & just leave every other idea alone.” Swami Vinekananda

A cup of tea & a sweet tea cake or cookie with a tea table filled with colorful roses.. Photo Credit: Nancy Armitage

We know that the Swami Vivakananda spoke in 1890’s. In wealthy peoples homes on 5th Ave. in NYC, Boston, San Francisco, Paris, & England. He lectured at the Union League Club & the Metropolitan Club in NYC; the Huntingtons were members. He lectured on trains across USA & steam ships like “S. S. Touraine” in August of 1895, a ship that Arabella Huntington traveled on. The Swami Vivekananda lectured at the Hotel Continental in Paris, France, a hotel that Arabella sometimes stayed in while traveling to Paris. All of these places that Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella) could have attended these motivational lectures.

Fresh fruit like mango & passionfruit with berries enhance tea nibbles for a lovely tea.

In the “journal – calendar’ of Swami Vivekananda, it documents his travels & lectures. It stated that Swami met Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella) of San Francisco, Calif. & art collector on March 20, 1900. That Mr. C. P. Huntington was one of the “Big 4” in the American railroad industry. Also, one of the lectures she might have attended also. It was called “Nature in Art” in 1900 in San Francisco, in the Vedanta Building & Washington Hall.

“The more we come out & do good to others, the more our hearts will be purified & God will be in them.” Swami Vivekananda

Did Mrs. Collis P. Huntington (Arabella) ever host one or some of these Swami lectures at her various Huntington mansions? I’m not sure. But interestingly in the Swami’s journal-calendar, a young Miss Anna Vaughn Hyatt (later Huntington) is mentioned. The famous Anna Hyatt Huntington became Mrs. Arabella Huntington daughter-in-law/ Anna hosted a lecture & probably a tea reception; she was from Massachusetts, a sculptress. Later in life she became very famous as a excellent sculptor. Her family, the Hyatts & the Bagley’s hosted a lecture for the Swami, one summer day. That lecture was located at Hyatt’s summer home at 704 Washington Street in Annisquaus, Massachusetts on August 21, 1894. It was actually a series of lectures on Aug. 17-23, 1894, & Aug. 26, 1892, & Sept. 1-5 , 1894. Anna’s dad was Prof. Alpheus Hyatt, he was a professor of Zoology & Paleontologist at Harvard University. Which is the study of animal fossil records & he was also the founder of Institute at Woods Hole, in Cape Cod, Mass. Miss Anna Hyatt years later married Arabella’s son, Mr. Archer M. Huntington on March 10, 1924.

What would be served at these summer lectures? A lovely afternoon tea I presume with beverages like Iced Cold Lemonade or Indian Chai Tea. Some fresh Fruit like Mango & Exotic fruits like Passionfruit & raspberries, Tea Sandwiches (lobster, chicken, & deviled eggs). Sweets like tea cakes & Tea cookies. Maybe the Swami would come into the host’s kitchen & make some delicious Indian food. Maybe he would make a delicious Curry Mulligatawny Soup made with chicken, vegetables, apples, & rice. This soup originated from South Indian cuisine. A soup, I know that the Huntingtons served in their mansion at No . 2 E. 57th St. New York City, NY.

A lovely cup of spicy & fragrant Chai tea filled with aromatics like cinnamon, ginger, anise, cardamom, cloves and nutmeg.

Spirituali-tea (1890’s) Chai Tea Recipe

This is a wonderful fragrant spicy tea. Actually, a Indian specialty which would have been perfect for the Swami Vivekananda Lecture.

3 T. Black India Tea “Orange Pekoe” (mixture of India tea & Ceylon tea)

1/4 c. milk, soy or oatmeal milk, or evaporated milk

1 t. cardamom pods, dried

1 t. fresh ginger, sliced

Honey to taste

1 t. cinnamon chips, dried

1 t. whole cloves, dried

1/2 t. whole black pepper, dried

Heat water in tea kettle. Mix the herbs & add to hot India tea. Add to a teapot. Add milk and honey and sugar. Makes a teapot of chai tea. Recipe: Nancy Armitage

Tea cakes such as French Opera cake, or Cheese cake or Pumpkin cake are delicious with afternoon tea.

Mrs. Arabella Huntington who had a very kind & generous heart was really affected by the Swami’s words. She sat down & wrote her niece, Carrie Huntington a letter about it; she described how very moved she was. That the Swami inspired her & that she would “go on with it”. Maybe meaning attending all the lectures in the series offered to the public. And I’m sure she donated to the Swami’s cause, too. Often, when Arabella Huntington believed in a cause, she helped out very generously & often writing a $1000.00 check on the spot.

“Our duty is to encourage everyone in his struggles to live up to his own highest idea & strive at the same time to make the ideal as near as possible to the truth.” Swami Vivekananda

A lovely fine bone china tea cup & saucer with pink roses & multi-colored flowers. Tea just tastes better, when it is drunk out of a beautiful teacup.

Arabella’s letter was on snow-white stationary, from their NYC Huntington Mansion; printed simply on top was their address “No. 2 East Fifty-seventh Street” (in Old English scrip writing).

Letter from Mrs. Arabella “Belle” D. Huntington (NYC) to Carrie Huntington Holladay, her niece (either in Oneonta.NY or San Francisco,CA (Date: unknown – Hot Summertime in 1890’s or 1900):

“Friday July 20th ______ 2 East Fifty-Seventh Street. My dearest Caroline, We are in town waiting for Helen & Archer [Archer Huntington & his 1st wife, Helen] who arrive tonight or early tomorrow morning. The heat is so intense that we are all feeling under the weather. I have never seen anything like it. Sleep is impossible. Last night a little breeze cajoled us for a while, but it went away, San Francisco climate. You are such a Salamander this would just suit you. I hope you are coming very soon. to get warmed up. Clara has just cabled that she will sail [Princess Clara Huntington von Hatzfeldt] from England to NYC August 1st – we will remain at the [Huntington “Homestead” in Westchester Co, NYC] until she arrives & then go back to Camp [The Huntington’s “Camp Pine Knot” on Racquette Lake in Adirondack Mts., NY]. Lots of ___. Where I hope to see you & Burke, a letter later- Edward [HEH] I don’t believe wants to come. You remember the Indian Hindoo philosophy – well there is something in it- you can obtain such self-control that no loss no disappointment can make you suffer. You can give up anything – & it makes you considerate, unselfish, & forgiving- I need all this & so I am going on with it. Will tell you about it when you come – Write soon – With best love to you, Burke & the babies. Affectionately, Belle” Document: HEH Coll. HEH 421 Correspondence (Letter from Arabella Huntington to her niece, Caroline Huntington) Huntington Library, San Marino, CA

“Be the servant while leading. Be unselfish. Have infinite patience, & success is yours. ” Swami Vivekananda

A stunning side buffet table or a tea tray owned by the Arabella Huntington Family. Located at the Huntington Mansion, San Marino Ranch, now the Huntington Library, San Marino, CA


Information from The unexplored side of Swami Vivekananda, his love of food by Kartikeya Shanker July 17,2021

Documents: Swami Vinekananka journal calender on

Document: HEH Coll. HEH 421 Correspondence (Huntington Library) Letter From Mrs. Arabella Huntington to Carrie Huntington Holladay her niece

“The greatest secret of true success, of true happiness is this; the man or woman who ask for no return, the perfectly unselfish person, in the most successful.” Swami Vivakananda

“Tea and charity” my grandmother used to call it…. many of the worlds problems have been solved over a cup of tea.
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