About Hetty Howland Green (Robinson)
Hetty Howland Robinson Green (1834-1916) – “The Witch of Wall Street”
"After Hetty's death, family genealogist William Emery asked her son, Ned, for clarification [about her name] and was told her name was "absolutely and positively was Hetty and nothing else.". (New Bedford Mercury, February 22, 1938) in Hetty By Charles Slack. Page 12.
Hetty Green, by her nature, encouraged superlatives. Variously described over the years by writers, journalists and historians as: “The Richest Woman in America,” “America’s First Female Tycoon,” “The World’s Greatest Miser,” “The Scrooge of Scrooges,” “The Queen of Skinflints,” “one of the most amazing characters, man or woman that this country has ever produced,” and “one of the greatest individual practitioners of the art of finance capitalism ever to have lived.” Hetty became an American legend.
- * “The Richest Woman in America” Hetty Green in the Gilded Age” by Janet Wallach “I enjoy being in the thick of things. I like to have a part in the great movements of the world and especially of this country. I like to deal with big things and with big men.”
- * Rosenblum, Constance (December 19, 2004). "'Hetty': Scrooge in Hoboken". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-07-21. "Hetty Green was that rarity, a woman who largely through her own efforts amassed a ton of money during the Gilded Age, a time when virtually everyone else getting rich -- Rockefeller, Morgan, Carnegie -- was a man. By nearly all accounts she was also a thoroughly unpleasant individual, greedy, petty and often downright nasty."
Born in New Bedford, the daughter of a wealthy and successful Quaker New Bedford whaling agent and oil manufacturer, Edward Mott Robinson (1800-1865) and his wife, Abby Howland, the daughter of Isaac Howland Jr., another great whaling merchant, Hetty inherited a fortune at the age of 30. Through her whole upbringing, from a very young age, she assisted her father in his financial dealings even becoming his bookkeeper at the age of fifteen. As an adult she devoted her life to the acquisition of money, going so far as to challenge the will of her aunt, Sylvia Ann Howland in the famous court case Mandell vs. Howland for the $2 million residue of the estate of whaling agent Isaac Howland, Jr.
Born in a time when women were widely believed to be incapable of handling money, Henrietta Howland Robinson Green shrewdly invested in the stock market and made a fortune on Wall Street ... After her father and an aunt’s death, her relatives tried to prevent her from inheriting their fortunes because she was a woman and they did not believe she would be able to manage the money. At the time, a woman’s inheritance was generally put in a trust account and managed by a male relative. Eventually, Green was able to procure one million dollars of her father’s fortune in 1865 and a portion of her aunt’s in the 1870s. In 1867, she married Edward H. Green, and by mutual consent, they kept their finances separate, allowing Hetty to maintain complete control of her fortune.
Green proved that the stereotypes about women’s math abilities were incorrect when she greatly increased her fortune through careful investing. Green did not seek investments that would promise quick returns but instead invested conservatively and with the long-term in mind. In addition to buying government bonds, Green primarily invested in railroads and real estate in places like New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. She said that before deciding on an investment, she would research as much information on it as possible. Her strategy was always to buy stock cheap and act with shrewdness, persistent, and thrift.
Green was frugal with her money and when panics hit, Green was able to loan money and pick up investment bargains. She knew that taking advantage of opportunities required careful planning and she was never caught unprepared. Over the fifty-one years she spent investing, it is estimated that she increased her fortune to over one hundred million dollars. By the time of her death, she owned about 6,000 pieces of real estate across forty-eight states, including railroads, theaters, cemeteries, hotels, office buildings, and the mortgages to nearly six hundred churches. Green earned the title of richest woman in the world.
Green was dubbed "The Witch of Wall Street" because of her extreme frugality, caution, and shrewdness, coupled with her typical attire of long black dresses. However, her behavior may have been partly a coping mechanism to deal with the hostile male environment in which she lived. Many people tried to take advantage of her, thinking she was a woman with no mind for money, while others attributed her success to their belief that she must have a man’s brain in a female’s body.
- Despite all of the obstacles and stereotypes she faced, Green was a peer with the best male financiers of the time and helped open the way for women in finance for decades after. She died in 1916 in New York City and her vast fortune was willed to her two children.
Her dislike for professional men was manifest one occasion when she applied for a permit to carry a pistol. Answering a friend who wanted to know her reason for arming herself, she said:
- "It's mostly to protect myself from lawyers. I'm not afraid of burglars or highwaymen."
From Southtown Economist, Nov 10 1940, Chicago, Illinois, United States Of America (attached)
Henrietta Howland Robinson was connected on the maternal Howland side to one of the great mercantile families of New England. She was reared in a home of Quaker austerity, however, and schooled privately. In 1865 both her father and a maternal aunt died, leaving her in their wills a total of about $10,000,000 in outright bequests and trust funds. Her suit to secure her aunt’s entire estate on the basis of a deathbed will dragged on for five years, until the will was adjudged a forgery in 1871. In July 1867 she had married Edward H. Green, but by mutual consent their finances were kept separate, and she managed hers with single-minded dedication both before and after his death in 1902.
Both her father and her grandfather had steeped Hetty Green in business and finance from childhood, and she devoted her life to increasing her fortune. She became a major and feared operator on Wall Street, where, in addition to extensive holdings in railroad and other stocks and in government bonds, she maintained a considerable liquid fund for lending purposes. In the aftermath of the panic of 1907, a number of major investors found themselves in her debt. She also invested heavily in mortgages and real estate, particularly in Chicago.
As her fortune grew, Hetty Green, sometimes called the “witch of Wall Street,” continued to live with her son and daughter in inexpensive lodgings, avoiding any display of wealth and virtually all society. Her eccentricities made her a favourite subject for newspaper gossip, and all manner of stories were circulated concerning her miserliness. Perhaps the most widely repeated was that of her supposed refusal to hire a doctor to treat her son’s injured leg, resulting eventually in an amputation. She often appeared publicly in shabby dress, and she was known to seek medical treatment for herself at charity clinics. She lived for much of her later life in a small apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey. On her death, Green left an estate of more than $100,000,000.
Hetty Green was an eccentric miser who became known as the “Witch of Wall Street”. With her business acumen she accumulated such wealth that she was the richest woman in the world. In order to save money, Hetty would work out of trunks at her local bank so she wouldn’t have to pay rent. When her son fell ill, she disguised herself and took him to a charity hospital; when they realized who she was, she fled claiming she would cure her son herself. Unfortunately he contracted gangrene and had to have his leg amputated. She always wore the same black dress and never changed her underwear unless it wore out. She moved back and forth between New York and New Jersey in order to avoid the taxman.
- Residence: St Marylebone, London, England 1871
- Residence: Moved from England approximately 1879 and lived at Tucker House until Bellows Falls, Windham, Vermont Between 1879 and 1882
Hetty Green's Timeline
November 24, 1834
New Bedford, Bristol, Massachusetts, United States
July 11, 1867
August 22, 1868
London, Greater London , England, United Kingdom
January 7, 1871
London, Greater London , England, United Kingdom
July 3, 1916
New York, New York, New York, United States
Bedford Falls, Windham , Vermont, United States