This week’s post is a strange one…
In the annals of financial history, Hetty Green, often referred to as the “Witch of Wall Street,” occupies a unique and peculiar place. Her life story is a fascinating tale of eccentricity, thriftiness, and relentless pursuit of wealth. In this blog post, we delve into the strangeness that defined Hetty Green’s life and legacy.
Bellows Falls Vermont 1913 Postcard Residence Hetty Green Witch Of Wall Street
Early Life and Wealth Accumulation:
Henrietta Howland Robinson was born on November 21, 1834, in New Bedford, Massachusetts. She hailed from a Quaker family, and her father, Edward Mott Robinson, was a successful businessman and whaling magnate. From an early age, Hetty showed an aptitude for finance, an interest that would shape her future.
Her journey to financial success began with an inheritance from her maternal aunt when she was just 30 years old. She invested her inheritance in government bonds and railroad stocks, which were lucrative during the Civil War era. Her initial investments set her on a path to accumulating a substantial fortune, but it was her unwavering frugality and shrewd financial acumen that set her apart.
Eccentricities in Frugality:
Hetty Green’s most notorious trait was her extreme frugality. She became a legend for her penny-pinching ways, which many deemed eccentric and downright strange for a woman of her wealth and social status.
- Wardrobe and Personal Care: Hetty was known to wear the same black dress for years, leading to rumors that she owned only a single dress. She was also notorious for wearing outlandishly large and tattered bonnets, which only added to her peculiar image.
- Free Newspapers: Hetty would often collect discarded newspapers from the streets, claiming that she saw no need to pay for her own copy when there were perfectly good ones to be found.
- Living Arrangements: Despite her considerable wealth, Hetty and her family lived in spartan conditions. She would negotiate the rent for their apartments aggressively, often moving to different cities in pursuit of lower rent.
- Medical Care: When her son, Edward, broke his leg, Hetty’s frugality extended to his medical treatment. She took him to the hospital for the poor and even argued over the price of a splint.
While Hetty Green’s frugality was eccentric, her financial acumen was anything but. She was a savvy investor who understood the intricacies of the stock market, bonds, and real estate. Her shrewd investment decisions allowed her wealth to grow significantly.
- Real Estate Investments: Hetty was a significant player in the real estate market, particularly in New York City, where she acquired valuable properties and earned substantial rental income.
- Railroads and Bonds: She invested heavily in railroad stocks and government bonds, making calculated moves that maximized her returns.
- Lending and Mortgages: Hetty engaged in lending money at profitable interest rates, earning a reputation for her tough and unyielding negotiation skills.
- Tax Evasion: She was known to be relentless in avoiding taxes, often moving her residency to states with lower tax rates to protect her wealth.
The Legal Battles:
The eccentricity of Hetty Green extended beyond her frugal lifestyle. She was involved in several legal battles throughout her life. One of the most notable was her contested will, which ultimately became a public spectacle. When Hetty Green passed away in 1916, her son, Edward Howland Robinson Green, contested her will, claiming that she was of unsound mind when she drafted it. The legal battle that ensued was highly publicized and garnered significant attention.
Legacy and Impact:
Hetty Green’s strange and unconventional ways earned her both notoriety and admiration. Her financial success was a testament to her sharp mind and her ability to navigate the male-dominated world of finance during her time. Despite her eccentricities, or perhaps because of them, she left a lasting legacy.
- Trailblazer for Women: Hetty Green was a trailblazer for women in finance, defying societal norms and expectations of her era. She proved that a woman could thrive in the world of business and investments.
- Influence on Modern Finance: Her strategies, such as value investing and thorough research, remain relevant in modern finance. She was a pioneer of the principles that many successful investors and financial experts uphold today.
In conclusion, Hetty Green, the “Witch of Wall Street,” was undoubtedly a unique and eccentric figure in the world of finance. Her strange frugality, shrewd financial acumen, and legal battles left an indelible mark on history. She is remembered as a financial maverick, a pioneering woman in finance, and a symbol of the complexities of wealth and eccentricity. Whether admired or criticized, her legacy as one of the most unusual millionaires in history endures.
Hetty died in July 1916 in New York City, her estimated estate at the time was worth $100,000,000
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