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10 things women should know about Hetty Green, the millionaire who lived a miserly life


Harriet “Hetty” Robinson Green, an eccentric but brilliant woman, had an estate valued at about $100 million, making her one of the wealthiest people alive in her day.

She also gained a reputation as being particularly ruthless and stingy with her money, and was even nicknamed “The Witch of Wall Street.” And while there may be some truth to these rumors, it’s possible she faced harsher criticism than her wealthy peers for being a woman in a man’s industry.

This is the story of Hetty Green, the wealthiest woman of the Gilded Age.

1. Harriet “Hetty” Robinson was born in Massachusetts in 1834 to a wealthy New England family that made their fortune through their whaling fleet based out of the New Bedford port. Robinson’s only brother died when he was very young, leaving her the heir to the family fortune, a burden her father made sure she was prepared for.

2. According to the National Park Service, she later recalled, “I was taught from the time I was six years old that I would have to look after my property.”

3. Her grandfather, Gideon Howland, encouraged his granddaughter’s curiosity by urging her to read financial newspapers, often discussing financial matters with her, Smithsonian Magazine reports.

10 things women should know about Hetty Green, the millionaire who lived a miserly life

4. On July 11, 1867, she married millionaire Edward Henry Green of Vermont. Under the legal doctrine of “coverture” that was in place at the time, a husband assumed all of his wife’s rights and property.


5. But Hetty Green’s father and grandfather’s desire that she manage her own finances and not have to depend on anyone else led young Robinson to make a very unusual request of her new husband: She asked him to forgo all rights to her money.

This proved to be a wise move on Hetty’s part. According to Insider, she had to bail out her high-spending husband multiple times before Edward finally went bankrupt in 1885, at which time she refused to pay his debts, and the two separated.

6. Hetty Green steadily increased her fortune over the years by speculating on the dollar and investing in mortgages, real estate, and railroads. Green was also left money by several of her family members, increasing her already-sizable wealth.

By 1905, a Seattle Republican article listed her as one of the world’s “richest two dozen” people among names like Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan, estimating her net worth at considerably lower that of John D. Rockefeller, but considerably higher than that of King Edward VII of Britain. Out of all the millionaires and royals listed in the article she was, it seems, the lone female.

7. Newspapers dubbed her the “Witch of Wall Street” after she donned mourning clothes in light of her estranged husband’s death in 1902 and “thereafter she was never seen on the street except with a heavy swathing of black veil,” according to Boyden Sparkes and Samuel Taylor Moore’s The Witch of Wall Street, Hetty Green.

8. The nickname may have also had to do with her Quaker upbringing, which demanded she dress simply, along with her reputation for being stingy with her money.

10 things women should know about Hetty Green, the millionaire who lived a miserly life

9. Other sensational stories about the black-clad millionaire include that she was so miserly that she did not use hot water, lived in humble lodgings in New Jersey, only changed her undergarments after they had fallen apart, and ate only oatmeal that she warmed up on her office radiator (perhaps a dig at her Quaker upbringing).

There were also rumors that she was so paranoid someone was out to get her that she started carrying a pistol, and that her husband was on an allowance.

One of the rumours involved her son, Edward. It was said that she refused to pay for her children’s medical care, leading Edward to lose a leg. However, Edward later denied this rumor, telling The New York Times that his illness wasn’t serious, and that it was only when he reached adulthood that he needed an amputation.

“Much has been printed about my mother that is untrue,” he said. “She has been represented as being parsimonious; but such is not the case. She has worked harder than any man in New York.”

She was also one of the earliest practitioners of value investing and built her vast fortune through a combination of talent and hard work. And she famously believed that women should learn about business, saying, “a girl should be brought up as to be able to make her own living, whether or not she’s going to inherit a fortune.”

10. Hetty Green died in July 1916, leaving behind an estate reportedly worth $100 million – the equivalent of about $2.7 billion today – that was split between her two children, who enjoyed the money far more than their mother had.


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