Henrietta "Hetty" Howland Robinson Green (1834-1916)
Born in a time when women were widely believed to be incapable of handling money, Henrietta Howland Robinson Green shrewdly invested in the stock market and made a fortune on Wall Street. Born in Massachusetts in 1834, Green spent much of her youth with her father and grandfather, learning about financing and business. After her father and an aunt’s death, her relatives tried to prevent her from inheriting their fortunes because she was a woman and they did not believe she would be able to manage the money. At the time, a woman’s inheritance was generally put in a trust account and managed by a male relative. Eventually, Green was able to procure one million dollars of her father’s fortune in 1865 and a portion of her aunt’s in the 1870s. In 1867, she married Edward H. Green, and by mutual consent, they kept their finances separate, allowing Hetty to maintain complete control of her fortune.
Green proved that the stereotypes about women’s math abilities were incorrect when she greatly increased her fortune through careful investing. Green did not seek investments that would promise quick returns but instead invested conservatively and with the long-term in mind. In addition to buying government bonds, Green primarily invested in railroads and real estate in places like New York, Chicago, and St. Louis. She said that before deciding on an investment, she would research as much information on it as possible. Her strategy was always to buy stock cheap and act with shrewdness, persistent, and thrift. Green was frugal with her money and when panics hit, Green was able to loan money and pick up investment bargains. She knew that taking advantage of opportunities required careful planning and she was never caught unprepared. Over the fifty-one years she spent investing, it is estimated that she increased her fortune to over one hundred million dollars. By the time of her death, she owned about 6,000 pieces of real estate across forty-eight states, including railroads, theaters, cemeteries, hotels, office buildings, and the mortgages to nearly six hundred churches. Green earned the title of richest woman in the world.
Green was dubbed "The Witch of Wall Street" because of her extreme frugality, caution, and shrewdness, coupled with her typical attire of long black dresses. However, her behavior may have been partly a coping mechanism to deal with the hostile male environment in which she lived. Many people tried to take advantage of her, thinking she was a woman with no mind for money, while others attributed her success to their belief that she must have a man’s brain in a female’s body.
Despite all of the obstacles and stereotypes she faced, Green was a peer with the best male financiers of the time and helped open the way for women in finance for decades after. She died in 1916 in New York City and her vast fortune was willed to her two children.
Books and Journals:
- Garrison, George H., "Hetty Green Witch of Wall Street," Friends of Financial History, Issue #16, July 1982, 18-19.
- Menand, Louis. The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001.
- Moore, Samuel Taylore. Hetty Green – A Woman who Loved Money. New York: Doubleday, Doran, 1930.
- Moore, Samuel Taylor and Boyden Sparkes,. The Witch of Wall Street: Hetty Green.
- Garden City, New Jersey: Doubleday, Doran, and Company, 1935.
- Ross, Ishbel. Charmers and Cranks: Twelve Famous Women Who Defied the Conventions. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1965.
- Slack, Charles. Hetty: The Genius and Madness of America’s First Female Tycoon. New York: Harper Collins, 2004.
- Wycoff, Peter, "Queen Midas: Hetty Robinson Green," The New England Quarterly, June 1950, 147-171.
- Dr. Brian Grinder and Dr. Dan Cooper, “Hetty Green: Legendary Wall Street Inventory,” Museum of American Finance, 2005, http://www.financialhistory.org/fh/1996/55-1.htm (27 February 2006).
- "Green, Hetty." Britannica Student Encyclopedia, 2006, Encyclopedia Britannica Premium Service. 24 Feb. 2006 http://www.britannica.com/ebi/article-9274653.
- Cottrell, Debbie Mauldin. “Green, Hetty Howland Robinson,” The University of Texas at Austin/Texas State Historical Association, 6 June 2001, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles/GG/fgrrw.html (27 February 2006).
- Nichols, Edith. “The House that Hetty Built,” n.d., http://www.asu.edu/ucw/netcetera/thehousehettybuilt.html (27 February 2006).
- PHOTO: the Museum of American Financial History