Rachel McMasters Miller married Roy A. Hunt on June 11, 1913. The daughter of Mortimer Craig Miller and Rachel Hughey McMasters, she was born on June 30, 1882 in Turtle Creek, Pennsylvania and was educated at the Thurston School in Pittsburgh and Miss Mittleberger’s School for Girls in Cleveland. She and Roy had four sons: Alfred Mortimer Hunt (1919-1984), Torrence Miller Hunt (1921-2004), Roy Arthur Hunt, Jr. (1924-1981), and Richard McMasters Hunt (1926-).
From her youth, Rachel had a strong affinity for plants and gardens as well as for books. These interests eventually led to her developing an internationally renowned collection of botanical books, in addition to manuscripts and artworks. She began early to collect books in her special areas of interest. Her first gardening book, bought at age 15, was Leonard Meager’s The English Gardener, or A Sure Guide to Young Planters and Gardeners, London, Printed for P. Parker, 1670.
Rachel also became interested in bookbinding and studied with Euphemia Bakewell, a student of the English master binder, T. J. Cobden-Sanderson. An accomplished bookbinder, she exhibited thirty-four of her books at the New York School of Applied Design for Women in 1911, an exhibit that later moved to the Wunderly Galleries in Pittsburgh. Her first gift to Roy was a copy of The Book of Common Prayer, which she had bound and appropriately tooled in aluminum.
Her considerable mastery of the bookbinder’s craft enabled her to produce approximately 90 bindings, many of which are now held by the Hunt Institute. Her binding activity is documented in Marianne Titcombe’s The Bookbinding Career of Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, Pittsburgh, 1974.
She also began to collect rare books in earnest. In addition to books on plant-related subjects, she collected works on bookbinding, typography and book production, as well as the products of selected private presses. Much of this non-botanical material resides in the Rare Book and Special Collections department of the Carnegie Mellon University Libraries.
Throughout her life, Rachel was a member of more than thirty horticultural and botanical organizations, some of which she helped to establish. In 1956, she was named Honorary Vice President of the American Horticultural Society. She authored books and papers, and lectured widely in the fields of horticulture and literature. Carnegie Institute of Technology awarded her an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters in 1960.
In 1961, Rachel and Roy founded the Hunt Botanical Library at Carnegie Mellon University (now the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation). Rachel’s library formed the basis of the Institute’s collection, and Roy’s financial contribution allowed for the construction of the University’s central library where the Hunt Institute is still housed. Today, the Institute continues its curatorial work and research in systematic botany and serves as a resource for botanists from around the world.
Images courtesy of The Hunt Institute