Ever heard of The Witch of Wall Street? Legend has it she was born on this day in 1834. But who was she? And how’d she earn such a sinister nickname?
Here’s the story of Hetty Green — the first female Wall Street tycoon who hoarded a fortune equal to $3.8 billion in today’s dollars.
Who Is Hetty Green?
Henrietta “Hetty” Green was born on Nov 21, 1834, to Edward Mott Robinson, a rich businessman and astute Quaker, and Abby Howland, an heiress to a mounting fortune.
Hetty’s father had failing eyesight, so she’d often read the financial news to him. Over the years, she became so obsessed with the stock market that on her 20th birthday, she sold the trunk of expensive dresses her father had given her as a gift and bought government bonds instead.
How She Became The Witch of Wall Street
In her adult years, Hetty became known as The Witch of Wall Street due to her surly disposition and the black widow’s clothing she was notorious for wearing daily. Indeed, she always resembled a gruff widow mourning the death of her dear husband.
But her bizarre story doesn’t end there. Here are three more strange and outlandish facts about Hetty Green.
1. She Tried To Forge Her Aunt’s Will (& Lost)
Hetty inherited $7.5 million from her father in 1864 and was set to receive millions more from her unwed Aunt Sylvia — a sum of money she fixated on until her aunt’s dying breath. But to Hetty’s surprise, her aunt didn’t leave her anything when she died.
Fueled with outrage and disbelief, Hetty allegedly forged her Aunt Sylvia’s signature and attempted to challenge the will in court. She ultimately lost her case.
2. She Was Over-The-Top Frugal
Hetty Green was as cheap as they come. Rumor has it she allowed someone to amputate her son’s leg because she didn’t want to have to spend money on a doctor.
But that’s not all.
She was notorious for moving from cheap apartment to cheap apartment in Brooklyn, NY and Hoboken, NJ to avoid having to establish residency and pay taxes.
She worked at Chemical Bank where she would heat her oatmeal up on the radiator as she built her fortune. And she once spent hours hunting for a two-cent stamp because she refused to buy a new one.
3. Her Greatest Sin Was Living Life Boldly On Her Terms
Hetty defied every social norm by being an outspoken woman who lived life boldly on her terms. Here’s a short list of “sins” she committed during her time:
- She carried a gun and used crude language.
- She made her husband sign a prenup before they married.
- She managed her own investments better than most of her male peers.
- She traveled thousands of miles alone in a time where most women wouldn’t dare go anywhere unaccompanied.
Hetty was bold, astute, and full of confidence — a force to be reckoned with.
What Today’s Investor Can Learn From Hetty Green
Hetty lived a peculiar life, but she was wise beyond her time. Here are two takeaways we modern investors can learn from her life story:
She Invested Wisely
In a time where women weren’t trusted with money, Hetty stuck to her passions and helped lay the groundwork for value investing — an investment strategy that helped Warren Buffet and many others amass their billions.
Hetty believed in a buy-and-hold strategy. She never invested on margin or panicked when the market tanked. Instead, she held her head high, bought real estate, bonds, railroads, and mines on the cheap, and only sold when the time was right.
She Helped Those In Need
Hetty lived plainly among ordinary people — a “millionaire next door” type who stuck close to her Quaker roots. Instead of touting her wealth, she spent her time loaning money to churches at below-market rates and secretly providing regular incomes to families in need.
We could all learn a thing or two from the intellectual brilliance that was Hetty Green. People may have referred to her as The Witch of Wall Street, but she was a prodigy for her time.