Who was Hetty Green? Why was she famous?

After Hetty Green’s death on July 3, 1916, news reports called her “the richest woman in the world”, with an estate valued at over $100 million. However, she had another, less salubrious title: The Witch of Wall Street. Whether she earned that nickname because of her actions or because of the rampant misogyny of her time, being a spectacularly successful woman playing a man’s game, finance, is open to interpretation. Nevertheless, in 51 years, she turned an 1865 inheritance from her father and aunt of around $5-10 million (reports differ) into the equivalent of just over $2.5 billion. in 2022 dollars.

Youth and education

Born Henrietta Howland Robinson on November 21, 1834 in New Bedford, Massachusetts, she was the daughter of a successful whaling agent and oil manufacturer, Edward Mott Robinson, and Abby Howland, the granddaughter of yet another whaling agent. more prosperous, Isaac Howland. Jr., who led one of New England’s great merchant families. Raised as a strict Quaker, she was taught to live with austerity. At the age of 6, she had to read the financial pages of newspapers to her father and grandfather, who both had poor eyesight. When she was 8, she opened her first bank account with the money she had saved from her allowance. She began going to school at age 10, attending a strict Quaker boarding school in Sandwich, Massachusetts.

At the age of 15, she went to a summer session at Friends Academy, then to three years of graduation in Boston. She was also at age 15 put to work as her father’s accountant. Or, as she told the accomplished American journalist Dorothy Dix as an adult, “I was forced into business. I was the only child in two wealthy families and I was taught from the age of 6 that I had to take care of my property.

Notable achievements

Besides the fortune she has made, probably Green’s most notable achievement is living her life exactly as she wanted to in a male-dominated industry and society at a time when, by law, property ownership a woman was controlled by her husband. She was known to use salty language and carry a gun, and she traveled great distances alone, which was considered outrageous conduct for a woman.

She also created an early example of a prenuptial agreement to circumvent marital property law. When she married Edward H. Green, a wealthy Vermont businessman, in 1867, she legally ensured that their financial lives were entirely separate. This is probably because, unlike her, he was a very reckless investor who liked to speculate wildly and live extravagantly. Nevertheless, she repeatedly saved him from debt, at least until 1885, when she discovered that he planned to use $550,000 of his money to improve a loss without her consent. Thanks to his legal agreement, his bank refused the transfer of funds. Although she did not divorce her husband, they separated at this time and the marriage never fully recovered from her betrayal.

Additionally, because she always made sure she had a large reserve of cash available for lending, she was able to avert disaster in the Wall Street Panic of 1907. She bailed out New York when the banks refused to do so and had many large investors beholden to him. After separating from her husband, she set up an office at the Chemical Bank and built her fortune on Wall Street. A steady stream of men regularly sought her investment advice, which led to her being given another moniker more acceptable to the press: the Queen of Wall Street.

Private life

Green lived an existence of such austerity and frugality that she must have been regarded by her contemporaries as an eccentric or, less charitably, a cheapskate. Indeed, the Guinness Book of World Records dubbed her “the world’s greatest miser” according to biographer Charles Slack. Her various homes were always cheap, and once her son and daughter grew up, she chose a small apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey, for her residence. Her dress was considered shabby, and after her husband’s death in 1902 she regularly dressed in black mourning clothes. She sometimes sought medical treatment at charity clinics, and an infamous story about her says she once denied her son medical treatment after a sledding accident, a decision that ultimately led to amputation. of his leg.

Her son, however, took a different view of the story in a New York Times interview published six days after her death. He told The Times that the accident, which happened when he was 7, was not considered serious, so no medical help was sought. And it was not until adulthood, many years later, that amputation was necessary. He went on to say, “A lot of things have been imprinted on my mum that are wrong. She was depicted as parsimonious; But that is not the case.”

Green attributed his lifestyle to his Quaker upbringing. “My early training disciplined me towards pomp and showmanship,” she said. “My family has been wealthy for five generations. We don’t need to show off to ensure recognition of our position. A New York world the editorial called the remark “insolent”. Green also explained to the press, “I do my own shopping because I get a hundred cents for every dollar. If more people did this there would be less talk about the hard times and the high cost of living.

Green also avoided participating in high society, which caused people to look askance. Once, when she was 20, her father bought her a wardrobe of fancy dresses to help her find a husband. She quickly sold them and bought government bonds with the money.

Wealth and philanthropy

Green amassed his vast fortune through disciplined and conservative methods. As she said to New York Times in 1905, “I buy when things are bad and nobody wants it. I keep them until they go up and people are eager to buy. She refused to buy stocks on margin and generally preferred to invest in real estate. However, she didn’t follow a buy-and-hold philosophy: “I never buy anything just to keep it,” she said. “There is a price on everything I have. When this price is offered, I sell. This led to her being dubbed “the grandmother of value investing”.

Her son explained his investment philosophy thus: “My mother never made money speculating. The Greens don’t speculate. She was what you might call an individual bank. good guarantees.There is no better judge of commercial paper in the United States.

His philanthropy was not publicly engaged, according to his Quaker beliefs. However, she provided loans at below market rates to 30 churches and, according to her son, secretly supported a variety of charities while providing regular income for at least 30 families.

felonies

Green has never been arrested for any crime, although she has been charged with the equivalent of some in the court of public opinion, as in the case of her son’s sledding injury. However, she doesn’t seem to have been above the occasional shady deal. When his aunt Sylvia died in 1865 (just two weeks after Green’s father died), Green expected to inherit her $2 million estate. Instead, the will left $1 million to charity and the rest to Green in a trust run by his aunt’s doctor. Green produced an alternate will leaving her all of the kit and the caboodle, but the court believed it to be a forgery and she lost her challenge.

She has also, on at least one occasion, used brute force to achieve her ends. She had an ongoing business battle with Texas railroad magnate Collis P. Huntington. At one point he came to his office at Chemical Bank and threatened his son, who was representing his interests in Texas. His response was to point a gun at him, saying, “So far, Huntington, you’ve dealt with Hetty Green, the business woman. Now you fight Hetty Green, the mother. Hurt a hair off Ned’s head and I’ll shoot you in the heart. Huntington flees, leaving his hat behind.

Why was Hetty Green known as the Witch of Wall Street?

Slander began to be used after Green’s husband died, and she began wearing mourning clothes. Dressing in relentless black, in combination with stories of her misery, brought the image of a witch to the popular mind.

Why was Hetty Green so prepared for the Panic of 1907?

Green said she saw the panic coming. So she made a special attempt to have plenty of cash on hand that she could lend when disaster finally struck. She then bailed out New York City when the banks couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Where is Hetty Green buried?

Green, estranged from her marriage, returned to care for her husband in his final illness, moving with him to Bellows Falls, Vermont. He died in 1902 and she lived a widow for the next 14 years, converting to her Episcopal faith so that she could be buried next to him in Bellows Falls in the cemetery of Immanuel Episcopal Church.

The essential

It seems likely that Hetty Green’s reputation as a Wall Street witch was more a product of the raging misogyny of her time than being rooted in fact. Although undeniably eccentric, due at least in part to her strict Quaker values, she was a disciplined and shrewd investor who was well taught by her father and grandfather and had at least the grudging admiration and respect of her peers. An early practitioner of value investing, she amassed her estate of over $100 million through diligence, hard work and talent. She earned her position as the richest woman in the world.

So what happened to all that money? She left her estate equally divided between her son and daughter. Ned lived in extravagance, then left what was left to his sister. Sylvia, like her mother, kept her finances entirely separate from those of her husband. The couple had no children, and when Sylvia died, she bequeathed her entire fortune to several charities.

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