Who was Hetty Green?
In 1864, Hetty Green, the ‘Witch of Wall Street’ inherited over $1 million dollars from her father when she was 30 years old. Hetty, who could read the financial pages when she was 6 years old, didn’t hesitate to exercise her aggressive style with her newfound riches. She increased here fortune by investing in Civil War Bonds when everyone else shunned them. She played the market with a skill unequaled by today’s modern moneymakers. But while other aristocrats of her day spent their money languishly, Hetty held on to her hard-earned riches with an iron fist.
Hetty Green gained her nickname, the Witch of Wall Street, from her fellow investors who often chuckled when Hetty arrived in her usual garb – a long, black ‘dress’ and solid black petticoat. Hetty’s thriftiness caused her to rarely wash the dress, except occasionally the hem that drug on the ground.
While the other investment bankers worked in large, lavish offices, Hetty worked on a lone floor of a bank, and only because the bank graciously offered her free space. For lunch, she drug a ham sandwich out of her grubby coat pocket. Hetty never turned on the heat nor used hot water (she rarely washed her hands). In addition to plain sandwiches, she ate mostly pies that cost fifteen cents or oatmeal that she heated up on the radiator. It was claimed that one night she spent half the night searching through her carriage trying to find a two-cent stamp that she had lost.
She married only to prevent her relatives from inheriting her riches. Once, when her son suffered a bad sledding accident, Hetty tried to have him admitted in a charity ward. When she was recognized, she stormed away vowing to treat the wounds herself. The wounds eventually turned gangrenous and her son, Ned, had to have his leg amputated.
Still, Hetty’s riches grew. She was a very successful businesswoman dealing in real estate and other investments. The City of New York came to Hetty in need of loans to keep the city afloat on several occasions. Keenly detail-oriented, she would travel thousands of miles – alone, in an era when few women would dare travel unescorted – to collect a debt of a few hundred dollars.
Hetty finally died in 1916 of a stroke suffered while engaged in a heated argument with her maid over the price of milk. She left between $100 and $200 million dollars to her two children ($1.9-$3.8 billion in 2006 dollars).