Hetty Howland Robinson Green

Hetty Green. Courtesy of Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
Hetty Green. Courtesy of Hulton Archive/ Getty Images

Time Period

1860-1910

Subject Categories

Business

Notable Facts

Astute businesswoman and investor. Reportedly the wealthiest woman in the world at the time of her death in 1916. Nicknamed ""The Witch of Wall Street"" because of her extreme frugality and its effects on her family.

Personal Information

Date of Birth

11/21/1834

Date of Death

07/03/1916

Primary Residence

Bellows Falls

Religion

Quaker

Ethnicity

Caucasian

Historical Significance

Henrietta (Hetty) Howland Robinson Green was as astute businesswoman and investor who was reportedly the wealthiest woman in the world at the time of her death in 1916. Criticized for her extreme frugality and her treatment of family members, she was dubbed "The Witch of Wall Street."

Hetty Green was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1834 and had a Quaker upbringing. She was the daughter of Edward Robinson, who controlled the Isaac Howland Jr. Company, a wealthy whaling firm. Green grew up around business and learned about money, investments and the stock market at a young age. Her father died in 1865 and left her as the sole heiress of $1,000,000 in cash and $4,500,000 in real estate. Two weeks later, her aunt Sylvia died, whom Green had lived with as a teenager. Green received a portion of her aunt's estate, but she contested the will with a document confirming that she was sole inheritor. When the case was brought to court, Green was accused of forging signatures, but eventually the case was dropped.

Green married her financial advisor, Edward Green of Bellows Falls, Vermont, and initially the couple moved to London. Although Green denied it, they may have left the country to escape forgery charges stemming from the failed lawsuit. When they returned to the United States in 1875, the couple and their two children, Ned and Sylvia, lived with Edward Green's mother in Bellows Falls. Green invested in railroads, real estate, and goverment bonds while continuing to be extremely frugal with her money.

Stories about Green's frugality abounded, including that she paid her laundress less than others by ordering her to wash only the section of her dresses that trailed on the ground. While she dressed her children in patched, oversize clothing, her income was between five and ten thousand dollars a day. Her frugality may have had damaging effects on her son Ned's health. When he was fourteen, he dislocated his knee and Green sought free medical help. When she was asked to pay, she refused treatment for him. Five years later, he had another accident with the same knee and his leg had to be amputated. The doctor reported that had Ned received proper medical care with his first injury, the amputation would not have been necessary. When the media learned of this incident, she was dubbed "The Witch of Wall Street" for her cruelty.

Edward Green was a wealthy man, but he had fallen into debt. Hetty Green wanted to transfer her $25,000,000 in securities from the John J. Cisco and Son Banking House to the Chemical National Bank, but her request was refused because of her husband's debts. She eventually paid the $422,143.22 he owed, but separated from him because she could not tolerate his poor business investments. Green continued to build her fortune through railroad stocks and mortgages. She purchased large quantities of real estate, including two square miles in the west side of Chicago, owned docks in San Francisco, and held mortgages on numerous buildings. By 1900, she had a yearly income of $7,000,000 and by 1908 she was worth $158,000,000. With age, Green grew increasingly paranoid that people would kill her for her money. She moved frequently and stayed in cheap boarding houses or hotels. However, when her husband grew ill, she nursed him until his death in 1902. Green died in 1916 and left her $150 million estate to her son and daughter. At that time, she was considered the wealthiest woman in the world.

Organizations or Movements

  • New York Stock Exchange

Occupations

  • Businesswoman
  • Investor.

Additional Information (Bibliography)

  • Vermont History: Hetty Green Link

  • Hetty Green Link

  • Belair, Lois. "Hetty Green." Those Indomitable Vermont Women. The American Association of University Women of Vermont. Williston, VT: Heritage Print & Copy, 2006.

  • Duffy, John, ed. "Hetty Green." In The Vermont Encyclopedia, University of New England Press, 2003.