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Who Was Hetty Green?

A woman who was one of the best on Wall Street. She even loaned money to New York City during the Panic of 1907.

Hetty Green

Hetty Green

Hetty Green's Early Life

She was born Henrietta Howland Robinson on November 21, 1834, in New Bedford, Massachusetts, to Edward Mott Robinson and Abbey Howland Robinson. The family was the wealthiest whaling family in the city. They owned a large fleet of whaling ships and traded with the Chinese. Henrietta, nicknamed Hetty, went to live with her grandfather Gideon Howard and her aunt Sylvia Howard.

Her mother was sickly, so she lived with her grandfather and aunt and later with her father. Hetty was reading financial pages with her father by the age of six. Hetty had an acute knowledge of figures and business from an early age. By the time she was thirteen, she was elevated as the family bookkeeper.

In 1854 her father bought her a wardrobe of beautiful dresses, hoping to secure her a good husband, but Hetty finding this frivolous, sold the dresses and instead bought bonds. In 1854 her father presented her as a debutante.

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Hetty's Fortunes

Hetty's father died in 1865, leaving her about six million in trust. In the same year, her aunt Sylvia died and left Hetty one-half of her two million estates again in faith. Hetty challenged Sylvia's will in court but lost in court. However, she did get $600,00. of the estate in a settlement.

Hetty inherited about six million dollars and, with her frugal ways and financial genius, parlayed that into 2.5 billion.

Hetty was a woman ahead of her time. She believed she was surrounded by gold diggers and trusted no one. But at the age of thirty-three, she met Edward Henry Green, age forty-four, who had a small fortune himself. Yet Hetty agreed to marry him in 1867. They were married on July 7, 1867, in New York City. Being the shrewd businesswoman, Hetty insisted he sign an agreement to never use her money for any of his debts or obligations.

In 1887, Edward lost his fortune through his misguided speculations. After Hetty found out he would use her money, they separated but never divorced. However, she did provide him with a pension for his life. When he became sick, Hetty cared for him until he died in 1902.

By this time, Hetty was the wealthiest woman in the world, outflanking the sharks of Wall Street and some of the richest men at the time. But she was also the most frugal and stingiest woman, earning her the Guinness Book record of the "World's Greatest Miser." As a result, many on Wall Street came to her for advice.

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Hetty was known to make sizeable amounts in loans to New York City, on more than one occasion to bail them out during hard times. Hetty was a remarkable woman, intelligent but stingy and controlling. It makes one wonder if she was pleased being the wealthiest woman, yet finances were all she knew.

Hetty Green Loans to NY

Hetty Green Loans to NY

Hetty Green's Children

Hetty and Edward Green had two children, the first of whom was Edward "Ned" Howland Green, sometimes called "Colonel Green," born August 22, 1868, in England. He died in 1936, in Lake Placid, New York. When Ned was hurt in an accident at age seven, Hetty took him to a free clinic, refusing to pay for medical care, and decided she could care for him herself. Unfortunately, the delay and Hetty's foolish frugal methods caused Ned's leg to be amputated.

Ned married former prostitute Mabel Harlow (1917-1950), but only after his mother died since she disapproved of Mabel. When Ned and his sister Sylvia inherited Hetty's estate, Ned and Mabel built a mansion in Round Hill, Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Hetty's nickname for Mabel was "Miss Harlot."

Ned then bought a very large yacht, only to discover he suffered from sea sickness and could never use it. Ned had an extensive coin and stamp collection and several automobiles. When Ned died, Mabel had signed a prenup giving her only a $1500/month pension. Mabel fought this in court with Ned's sister Sylvia, and Sylvia gave her $500,000 to settle.

Harriet Sylvia Green was born in London on January 7, 1871, and died in New York City on February 5, 1951. Sylvia married Matthew Astor Wilks. Hetty only approved of Matthew, believing he had his own money with the name Astor as he was the great-grandson of J. J. Astor. But Sylvia had Matthew sign a prenup that he could not claim any rights to her money.

When Sylvia died in 1951, her estate totaled $94,865,229. It included 36 pages of bonds, eight pages of blue chip stocks, and 31 million in a checking account. Her estate then was given to 63 charities and educational institutions with 3 million to a New York Fire Department ER fund.

In 1948, the NY Fire Dept commissioned a $900,000 fire boat in her name.

Hetty, Edward, Ned, Sylvia, and Matthew are all buried in Immanuel Cemetery, Bellows Falls, Vermont. It is unknown where Ned's wife, Mabel Green, is buried.

Hetty Green's Eccentricities

Here is a list of some of Hetty's eccentricities:

  • Hetty rode the ferry with the cars rather than pay a passenger fee.
  • She never tipped.
  • She hated politicians, and if they wanted a free ride on one of her railroads, it was never allowed.
  • She had her maid only wash the hems of her dresses to save soap.
  • She never turned on the heat.
  • She never used hot water.
  • She wore the same clothes till they wore out.
  • She bounced from boarding houses to avoid paying property taxes.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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