Hetty Green: How the Witch of Wall Street Became the Richest Woman In America

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TheStreet's month-long video series focusing on Women's History,  Wall Street, and Beyond continues with a look back at Hetty Green. The American businesswoman and financier became known as "the richest woman in America" during the Gilded Age.

About Hetty Howland Robinson Green 

Born in 1834 in New Bedford, MA, Robinson’s family were Quakers and profited from the whaling industry. When she was 13, Hetty became the family bookkeeper; she inherited fortunes from her father and aunt. When her father bought her a new wardrobe full of fine dresses, Hetty sold it and bought government bonds with the proceeds.

At the age of 33, Hetty married Edward Henry Green and moved to Manhattan. Hetty invested the interest from her father's trust fund Civil War bonds, which paid a high yield in gold. Hetty followed a contrarian investing strategy, in her words, "I buy when things are low and nobody wants them.”

Hetty Green Quote

Hetty Green was known as "Witch of Wall Street"

She successfully dealt in real estate, railroads, mines, and lent money while acquiring mortgages.

Green conducted much of her business at the offices of the Seaboard National Bank in New York, surrounded by trunks and suitcases full of her papers; she did not want to pay rent for her own office.

Possibly because of her usually dour dress (due mainly to frugality, but perhaps in part related to her Quaker upbringing), she was given the nickname "the Witch of Wall Street."

The City of New York came to Green for loans to keep the city afloat on several occasions, most particularly during the Panic of 1907; she wrote a check for $1.1 million.

Yet she was also a secret philanthropist, avoiding the attention of the press. In her words, "I believe in discreet charity."

Estimates of her net worth ranged from $100 million to $200 million (equivalent to $2.35 billion to $4.7 billion in 2021), making her arguably the richest woman in the world at the time

Upon her death, Hetty was known as the "Wizard of Finance" and the "Richest Woman in America.

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