Wall Street took its name from a wall that was erected in the 1650s by Dutch settlers on the island of Manhattan. The wall, which was intended to keep the British out failed, and Wall Street grew into the world’s most important financial center. On November 21, 1834, Hetty Green was born Henrietta Robinson in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Her father, Edward Robinson—nicknamed Black Hawk—was born in Philadelphia in 1800 to a Quaker family that had a long history in Rhode Island. He helped welcome then Congressman Abraham Lincoln to New Bedford when he spoke at Liberty Hall. Her mother, Abby Slocum Howland, was the daughter of wealthy whaling fleet owner Gideon Howland.
The Green family had made millions with their whaling fleet and shipping interests. A young Hetty H. Robinson spent more time at the side of both her grandfather and father, where she learned how to read the ledgers. Edward brought her to the brokers and taught her how trade commodities. He taught her the meaning of stocks and bonds, bulls and bears, and market fluctuations.
When everyone else was selling, Hetty Green bought and sold real estate, railroads, entire city blocks and government bonds. She owned mines and held mortgages on churches, factories, and office buildings. She adhered all of her life to buying low, selling high, and never panicking during a stock market scare.
The lone woman among 19th century tycoons such as Andrew Carnegie, JP Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, her holdings ranged from real estate in New York to dozens of buildings in downtown Chicago; gold, copper, iron mines out west; diamonds and pearls. She was considered the single biggest financier in the world.
A big difference between her and others such as Carnegie and Rockefeller is that she wasn't an industrialist. Her sole business was investing in real estate, stocks and bonds. She was an innovator in the field of value investing, considered the smartest woman on Wall Street, a railroad magnate, a real estate mogul, a Gilded Era renegade, and a reliable source for city funds.
She did not employ workers at slave wages, nor did she steal land from the public or outsmart stockholders or pay off government officials. Her formula was simple; common sense and hard work.
Hetty died in July 1916 in New York City. At the time of her death in 1916, she left a fortune estimated at $100 million, or about $2.6 billion today. She is buried in Bellows Falls, Vermont next to her husband Edward Henry Green. A marriage that included the unusual step of a pre-nup, which protected Green’s fortune. They raised two children.
In conclusion, Hetty Green believed that women should learn about bank accounts, mortgages, bonds and how interest works. She maintained that married women could also be businesswomen.
Newspapers referred to her as the “Witch of Wall Street” for her black clothing and stories of cold frugality, yet she reportedly donated to Barnard College, the Nurses Home, a group of New York pediatricians, and others. Papers also called her the “Queen of Wall Street” as she ruled the male-dominated world of American finance.
“I regard real estate investments as the safest means of using idle money… Let a woman watch and see in which direction a city is going to develop and buy there.”
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- “Hetty Green.” Lighting the Way, Historic Women of the SouthCoast, 27 Jan. 2020.
- Magazine, Smithsonian. “The Peculiar Story of the Witch of Wall Street.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 21 Nov. 2017.
- Slack, Charles. Hetty: The Genius and Madness of America's First Female Tycoon. Harper Perennial, 2005.
- “This Month in Business History: Hetty Green the ‘Witch of Wall Street’ Was Born.” Library of Congress.
- Wallach, Janet. The Richest Woman in America: The Life and Times of Hetty Green. Doubleday, 2012.