Hetty Green – Her Stingiest Stories That Would Make Her a Billionaire Today

Hetty Green earned the monikers “the richest woman in America” or “the richest woman in the world,” a reputation that fueled rumors of witchcraft among some men.
In 1865, she inherited nearly $7 million from her father and aunt, a vast fortune equivalent to around $100 million today, adjusted for inflation during the period from 1800 to 1929. Over the span of nearly fifty years, from the age of 31 when she inherited, until her death, she meticulously managed her wealth.
Green multiplied her fortune to nearly $200 million, an astonishing accomplishment valued at approximately $17 billion in today’s currency. She was a woman far ahead of her time, demonstrating a financial acumen that would have made her a darling of hedge funds and private equity managers today.

Here is a compilation of some of her stingiest stories that helped accumulate the massive wealth.

Hetty Green, “The Witch of Wall Street,” Came From a Rich Family

Hetty Green, The Witch of Wall Street, Came From a Rich Family

Although she belonged to a privileged background, Hetty Green was hungry for money from a very young age.
Henrietta Howland Robinson was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1834, during the Victorian era. Both her parents hailed from established Colonial families. Her great-grandfather had a significant role in the American whaling industry, eventually owning the country’s largest whaling fleet.

Her father, Edward Robinson, also involved in the family whaling business, prioritized wealth accumulation above all else. Hetty recalled her father advising her never to give anything to anyone, not even kindness, reflecting his strict approach to money. Despite Edward Robinson’s frugal nature, he significantly increased the family’s inheritance twentyfold.

According to the National Park Service, she later reminisced, “I was taught from the time I was six years old that I would have to look after my property.”

During her youth, Hetty briefly attended a boarding school but found little interest in formal education. Instead, she enjoyed accompanying her father as he conducted his daily business in New Bedford. In the evenings, she immersed herself in reading the financial pages of newspapers from New York and Boston.

1. Hetty Green’s First Investment Came At the Cost of Giving up On New Clothes

Hetty Green’s First Investment Came At the Cost of Giving up On New Clothes

As a young woman, Hetty was considered attractive. At the age of 20, efforts were made to introduce her to society in both Boston and New York for potential suitors. Her father provided her with a wardrobe valued at $1200, equivalent to tens of thousands in today’s currency. However, instead of keeping the clothes, she sold them and invested the money in the stock market. She relied on an unsuspecting cousin she was staying with in New York to purchase necessary items for her.

2. Hetty Green Forged her Aunt, Sylvia’s Signature on her Will

Hetty Green Forged her Aunt, Sylvia’s Signature on her Will

Hetty Green engaged in a legal dispute with family members over her aunt Sylvia Ann Howland’s will, claiming she should be the sole beneficiary. While the will originally designated various recipients, including charities, Green contested it, alleging an earlier version favored her exclusively.
The lawsuit, Robinson v. Mandell, gained renown for employing forensic mathematics to demonstrate that Green’s presented will was forged, highlighting her relentless pursuit of inheritance.

2. Father’s Will and Safeguarding the Inheritance 

Father’s Will and Safeguarding the Inheritance 

At the age of 30, Green experienced a sudden surge in wealth when her father passed away, leaving her with nearly $6 million. However, due to societal norms of the time regarding women’s financial capabilities, she was granted control over only $1 million. The remainder was placed in a trust, from which she received the interest but had no authority over its investment decisions.

Green had resisted marriage for a long time, fearing she wouldn’t find a husband who wasn’t interested in her wealth and matched her business savvy. At 33, she married her father’s former business partner, a successful trader in Asia.
Despite her wealth, Green dressed modestly to save on expenses and avoid attracting unwanted attention. She believed that dressing plainly would prevent overcharging by professionals and ward off potential fortune seekers.

4. Hetty Green Barely Bathed or Bought New Clothes 

Hetty Green Barely Bathed or Bought New Clothes 

Dubbed “The Witch of Wall Street” by the press, she earned this title due to her gruff demeanor and poor personal hygiene. Her foul odor in the summer was so unbearable that colleagues in her bank office would avoid her. She wore outdated, filthy black dresses, and her fingernails were caked with dirt. She did not buy hot water, hence explaining the stench.

After her husband’s death in 1920, she always seen clad in black, disheveled attires. It earned her the name “Witch of Wall Street.” Rumor has it that she only bought new undergarments after the ones she was wearing completely fell apart.

5. Hetty Green’s Stinginess Pertaining to Her Son Lead to His Amputation

Hetty Green’s Stinginess Pertaining to Her Son Lead to His Amputation

Despite her substantial income, her children wore hand-me-downs to school, with makeshift insulation in their winter clothing. She frequently argued over money matters and haggled over payments, earning a reputation among local shopkeepers who dreaded her.
Particularly appalling was her neglect of her son Ned. When he injured his knee in a sledding accident at nine, she refused medical care due to cost concerns. As a result, his injury worsened over time, leading to gangrene in his teens, ultimately requiring amputation above the knee.

However, Edward refuted the rumor about his illness, stating that it wasn’t severe and that he only needed an amputation as an adult. He emphasized that misinformation had been spread about his mother, saying:

Much has been printed about my mother that is untrue. She has been represented as being parsimonious; but such is not the case. She has worked harder than any man in New York.”

6. Hetty Green Delayed Her Hernia Surgery for Years 

Hetty Green Delayed Her Hernia Surgery for Years 

Despite suffering from a painful hernia for two decades, she reluctantly sought medical help, outraged by the $150 surgery fee, a significant sum a century ago. After the surgery, she attempted to avoid paying the doctor, a pattern consistent with her habit of dodging payment for services rendered.

7. Hetty Green Refused to Financially Support Her Husband After He Lost $2 Million

Hetty Green Refused to Financially Support Her Husband After He Lost $2 Million

According to Business Insider, she had to rescue her extravagant spouse on numerous occasions until Edward eventually declared bankruptcy in 1885. At that point, she declined to settle his debts, leading to their separation.

Upon returning to the United States, Hetty’s financial prowess began to flourish. Despite residing in Bellows Falls, she frequently traveled to New York, often for just a day, enduring a six-hour train journey each way.
On Wall Street, she astounded observers by confidently navigating the highly unregulated stock market, particularly investing in railroads, which were the hot commodities of the time. Her success in this male-dominated domain was unprecedented for a woman.

By 1881, Mr. Green, a stock market speculator, had squandered most of his $2 million fortune. Hetty, unswayed by sentiment, refused to support the household any longer and resolved to relocate herself and her two children to New York to be closer to her business endeavors.

While the stock market remained a peripheral interest, Hetty focused primarily on buying mortgages, particularly favoring those on churches, and lending money to bankers and brokerage firms.

8. Hetty Green Went At Great Lengths for Tax Evasion

Hetty Green Went At Great Lengths for Tax Evasion

At a greater stage of her career, Hetty frequently evaded tax collectors, feeling no obligation to contribute to the government coffers. Her residence in Hoboken provided a safe haven from New York collectors, and vice versa. Over the ensuing years, she and her children inhabited various inexpensive, sparsely furnished accommodations, where rents never exceeded $22 per month.

During much of the 1800s, Hetty Green maintained a series of houses in various districts to evade taxes. However, in 1885, her primary bank tried to seize her assets to settle her husband’s trading debts. In response, Green withdrew all her funds and established an account at Chemical National Bank, setting up an informal office in the back.

9. Hetty Green And Children Lived a Life Completely Devoid of Luxuries

Hetty Green And Children Lived a Life Completely Devoid of Luxuries

The family endured a life devoid of comforts afforded by wealth. When she visited her Wall Street desk, it was rumored that her lunch consisted of a can of oatmeal, heated on a radiator in someone else’s office, and eaten dry. A report in tan authentic magazine in 1888 stated that “Mrs. Green’s table expenses did not exceed $5 a week, and her other expenses were less than $4.”

Green also saved up the cost of heating by living in cheap lodges.

10. Hetty Green Stopped her Son From Marrying, Fearing his Spouse Would Demand a Share in her Fortune

Hetty Green Stopped her Son From Marrying, Fearing his Spouse Would Demand a Share in her Fortune

With access to substantial funds, Ned indulged in a luxurious lifestyle. During his time in Chicago, he met Mabel Harlow, who became his companion. She was a prostitute and Ned’s first sexual experience. Moving Mabel to Texas, Ned established hotel suites where she arranged for female companionship while he managed the clientele, accommodations, and entertainment, providing a lavish experience for his guests.
Hetty, fearing potential threats to her fortune from Ned marrying, extracted a promise from him not to wed. As a result, Mabel became Ned’s lifelong companion, fulfilling various roles including procurer. Hetty accepted this arrangement to ensure the agreement she had with her son. Following Hetty’s passing, Ned married Mabel under a prenuptial agreement, guaranteeing her $1500 monthly for life. He utilized his substantial annual income to acquire opulent estates in Florida, New York, and Massachusetts.

11. Hetty Green Even Hated Trivial Expenditures like Candles, Cookies and Stamps

Hetty Green Even Hated Trivial Expenditures like Candles 

The majority of her biographies are filled with tales of her extreme thriftiness, such as the story of her 21st birthday when she allegedly reprimanded her family for placing candles on her cake.

Despite her wealth, she lived frugally, buying broken cookies in bulk and spending hours searching for a missing 2-cent stamp.

12. Paranoid Hetty Green Would Dress Up as a Pauper to Avoid Payments 

Paranoid Hetty Green Would Dress Up as a Pauper to Avoid Payments 

Green’s entrance into Bellows Falls society was tumultuous, with opinions divided on who was at fault. Locals accused her of making unreasonable demands and refusing fair payment, while she believed everyone was trying to exploit her wealth. To conceal her riches, she advised others to dress poorly to avoid overcharging.

13. Hetty Green’s Other Frugal Ways of Avoiding Service Charges

Hetty Green’s Other Frugal Ways of Avoiding Service Charges

Occasionally, she tried to evade payment altogether, as evidenced by her interactions with a local lawyer and her laundress. She would demand the latter to only clean the lower parts of her dresses since they were the only ones getting dirty.

14. Hetty Green Wanted to Be Buried Next to Her Ex-Husband Only Because the Spot was Free

Hetty Green Wanted to Be Buried Next to Her Ex-Husband Only Because the Spot was Free

Although she resided in New York City in her later years, she wished to be buried beside her bankrupted ex-husband in Bellows Falls, leading to speculation about her choice of cemetery only because it was free.

15. Hetty Green Sought Professional Advice for Free 

Hetty Green Sought Professional Advice for Free

According to Bellows Falls lawyer F.B. Pingree, she was a persistent annoyance. He recalled a period when she visited his office daily under the guise of gossip, but her true intention was to seek free advice. Once Pingree caught on to her scheme, he banned Green from his office.

Hetty Green’s Thrifting Theory

Green’s personal view on thrift diverged from the public’s perception, heavily influenced by her father’s frugality and her Quaker background.

She saw thrift as a way of life, inherited from her father, who rejected luxury in favor of simpler pleasures, like inexpensive cigars. Here is what he had to say,

I smoke four cent cigars and I like them. If I were to smoke better ones, I might lose my taste for the cheap ones that I now find quite satisfactory.”

Her Quaker upbringing further reinforced her commitment to simplicity and modest living, which she saw as essential to living in accordance with her faith.

Moreover, her thriftiness played a crucial role in her investment strategy, enabling her to confidently invest during financial crises by maintaining minimal living expenses.

Hetty Green’s Legacy Lives On

Hetty Green’s Legacy Lives On

Despite the snarky comments and the nefarious reputation, Green was a formidable force. She helped stablizie banks and the economy during the financial panic times. Her legacy lives on. But mostly, there are speculations that the news about Hetty’s stinginess was sensationalised because mysiogynistic men couldn’t stand to be around a more powerful and wealthy woman.
Following her passing, Green earned titles such as the “Wizard of Finance” and the “Richest Woman in America,” with estimates of her wealth ranging from $100 million to $200 million, making her arguably the wealthiest woman globally at the time.

She was honored her two days after her death, highlighting her enigmatic persona and the fascination surrounding her career. They attributed her financial acumen to her New England heritage, emphasizing her ancestors’ prudent approach to money. While some perceived her as stern, there was no record of her causing harm, and criticisms of her ruthlessness were unsubstantiated. The Times concluded that although there were few like her, the presence of less commendable figures was a greater concern.

Kanza Panhwar
Kanza Panhwar
Dr. Kanza Panhwar, the dynamic online writer, captivates readers in the digital realm. Armed with an MBBS degree, she crafts engaging content on diverse topics, from tech-savvy reviews, and insightful medical analysis to thought-provoking opinion pieces. With a conversational tone and colloquial expression, Jessica fosters a strong connection with her audience, while her adaptability keeps her at the forefront of the ever-evolving internet landscape for the past six years. Embracing the digital era's opportunities, she leaves an indelible mark on the virtual world, one captivating article at a time.
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