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Published 2021-11-15
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Witch Of Wall Street - Had Millions But Lived Poor. Her Stinginess Led To Tragedies.

When thinking about the finance world, or the richest people on the planet, the first people that come to mind such as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or Elon Musk, are all men. Even now that women can do anything that men can, unlike in the 19th century, the top 10 list of richest people in the world, as per Investopedia, is dominated by men. On that list, the first woman, and the richest woman in the world appears on the 12th spot. However, back in the late 19th century things were a little bit different. Hetty Green was like a lone lioness among the financial sharks of her time and what’s more surprising is that she made millions at a time when only men got rich and women couldn’t vote. However, that came at a cost. Why did she become known as The Witch of Wall Street? And just how much money did this miser have and what did her life look like when she didn’t want to part with a single cent? Read on to find out all about Hetty Green.

Hetty Green - What Was She Known For?

Hetty had first come to New York at the age of 20. She was described as being tall, with a full figure, large blue eyes, and already then showing exaggerated frugality. Here the stories differ a little, some claim that her father had brought her several nice dresses, which she then sold and kept the money and another story claims that he gave her $1,200 of which she only spent $200 and put the rest in a savings account. "America's richest woman has certain characteristics. She does business according to very strict rules, without regard to sentiment or human relations, and she is thrifty in the most thorough sense of the word. She would sooner walk to a party in a snowstorm than pay for transportation," that is how The Times described her once she managed to establish herself among Wall Street’s financial titans of the time. Later dubbed the Witch of Wallstreet she was known as someone who could make money like few others but had become famous for not knowing how to spend it. But what did she do to become this famous? Read on to find out.

Hetty Green - Who Was She?

Henrietta “Hetty” Howland Robinson was born on November 21st, 1834 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her parents were Edward Mott Robison and Abby Howland and they were the richest whaling family in the city. They were Quakers that owned a large whaling fleet and also in some ways profited from the China trade. She was only two years old when she was sent to live with her grandfather, Gideon Howland, and her Aunt Sylvia. From an early age, she would read the stock quotations and commerce reports for her grandfather and as a result of this she had picked up his business methods. When her father became the head of the Howland whaling firm upon Gideon’s death, the then young Hetty began to copy her father’s business practices. She learned to read ledgers and trade commodities. Because of the influence of her grandfather and father, she was close to the reading, financial papers to her dad by age six. By age 13 she was the family bookkeeper and often accompanied Edward to the countinghouses, storerooms, commodities traders, and stockbrokers.

Hetty Green - How She Got The Money

Hetty’s father had died in 1864 which resulted in a sum of around $8 million going into her bank account, according to the estate proceedings. However, that wasn’t enough for the woman, and realizing that the inheritance of her aunt Sylvia was right there for the taking, she had to act. Wanting to get into the good graces of her aunt who had no children of her own, and eventually become her sole heir, Hetty decided to move in with her supposedly out of concern for the health of the older woman, but in reality, it was just so that she could keep an eye on her actions. Seeing her aunt’s right hand, maid Fally, Hatty had immediately seen a contender for the inheritance in her. Though many attempts to get rid of her rival were unsuccessful, Green had even tried to push her down the stairs in an attempt to end her life but that just ended in a tumble. So how did she solve the problem? Read on to find out.

Hetty Green - Problems With Aunt Sylvia’s Will

But Hetty didn’t give up as she tried to make her aunt’s inheritance hers and so she had forced the old woman to sign a will according to which she was to bequeath all her property to her upon her death. Though what she didn’t know was that two years later her aunt had secretly made a new will that included friendly widows and servants in it. Hetty had found this out after Sylvia’s death but she never let that stop her. Wanting to get all of her estate that was worth around $2 million she prepared a document, a fake one, of course, that stated that all possible contracts made after the one signed between them were invalid. But as it turned out the forged signature turned out to be a poor imitation of the original and so the case went to court, Hetty lost the five-year-long trial and instead of another inheritance, she earned a good dose of humiliation.

Hetty Green - Husband & Family

Even her husband had helped his wife with trying to get the inheritance by swearing while under oath for her. Yes, despite being a miser, Hetty was able to find a husband. Edward was from Vermont and seemed to have been the complete opposite of his frugal wife. He loved good food, expensive wines, and tipped waiters generously. Yet the two of them married in 1867 when Hetty was 33. Though of course she had made her husband sign a prenup and renounce his rights to her money a few months before the wedding. Yet, the two had lived together, had two children Edward “Ned” and daughter Sylvia. Despite later separating in 1885 they had remained close until her husband’s death. But how would Hetty’s frugality affect her children? Read on to find out.

Hetty Green - Just How Frugal Was She?

Despite the fact she had owned whole apartment buildings in St. Louis and Boston, huge warehouses in New York, and mansions on what was then the best address in the country, Fifth Avenue, the woman didn’t live in any of them. While people millions of dollars poorer than her built themselves mansions on Fifth Avenue, she rented hotel rooms and small apartments in New Jersey and Brooklyn, in places that were predominantly occupied by immigrants and the working-class. The woman usually wore the same clothes until they had completely become ruined and only then would go and replace them. She once told her housekeeper that in order to save soap she should only wash the dirty parts of her dresses, which were the hems. But the reason she moved frequently was that in order to have to pay taxes she had to have an established place of residence, so by constantly moving, she made things difficult for those in charge of collecting her cash. The woman questioned every bill and every price. She mostly lived off 15-cent cakes and oatmeal heated on the office heater as out of frugality she didn’t use a heater or hot water in her home. Hetty was able to use a disposable envelope several times and once spent an entire night looking for a two-cent stamp. The woman was also able to save on her health, suffering from a hernia she refused to have an operation that would have cost her around $150.

Hetty Green - Suffering Of Her Children

The result of her being so stingy with her money wasn’t just people talking behind her back but Hetty’s children also suffered. When her daughter was growing up, Green would chase away any potential suitors, claiming that they were only after her daughter’s inheritance. After two years of trying, she allowed for her daughter’s suitor to become Matthew Astor Wilks, an heir of the Astor fortune who through the marriage brought in $2 million. But the one who suffered the most through Hetty’s stinginess was her son. When Ned broke his leg as a child, his mother had tried to get him admitted to a hospital’s free clinic. When she was recognized, the woman along with her son fled and decided to cure him herself. Unfortunately for the boy, gangrene prevailed and the amputated leg had to be replaced with a prosthesis.

Hetty Green - Expanding Her Millions

She had soon become known as the Witch of Wallstreet due to the fact that she wore a black dress with a black veil once her husband passed but prior to his passing, her life had changed. The very same year she had separated from her husband was the year that she had a turning point in her career and set out alone to conquer Wall Street. When the John J. Cisco & Son official bank had announced its collapse, Hetty had shown up there promptly to collect her money. When she was denied it, the woman didn’t give up, threatening, blackmailing the staff, screaming and stopping until they gave in. After a few days, she had stashed her $560,000 deposit in a suitcase and took a cab to another bank. At the age of 50, when most were settling down in lives, she was just starting hers. Hetty achieved what other women at the time didn’t even dare to dream and her position was perfectly highlighted by a meeting organized by J.P Morgan which concerned the financial panic on the American stock exchange in 1907, where she was the only woman invited. That same year she also wrote out a check for $1.1 million that along with J.P Morgan’s plan was to save all the banks from collapsing during the Panic of 1907. With all the money she had amassed investing in bonds printed by the American government after the Civil War, she could then invest in whatever she wanted.

Hetty Green Fortune

Hetty’s main focus was real estate, city buildings, and railroads for which demand grew daily. The woman took risks, brought cheap, and sold at a much higher price. She also multiplied her income thanks to loans. The woman didn’t need them herself but others did and so she gave them to people on favorable terms. The mayor of New York himself often came to her, asking for support. When she died in 1916 at the age of 81 after suffering a series of strokes, the woman had an estimated $100 million in liquid assets, and much more in, land and investments that her name didn’t necessarily appear on. In the end, her fortune was worth around $2 billion today’s money-making her the richest woman in the world at the time. She left her money to her children, not donating a single cent to charity. Her children had split her estate and enjoyed the wealth a bit more than their mother. When her daughter died in 1951, she left behind an estimated $200 million and donated all but $1,388,000 to 64 colleges, churches, hospitals, and other charities.

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