THE INSATIABLE GREED OF HETTY GREEN
Back in the late 1800’s, the world’s richest woman was also the world’s stringiest. Though she had millions in the bank, she dressed like a street hag and lived like a pauper.
As a child, Hetty Robinson learned to read from the financial pages, which she would recite to her wealthy father. At age 30 she inherited one million dollars and, over the course of the next 50 years, she shrewdly manipulated stocks and bonds until her fortune grew to nearly $100 million.
Her financial wizardry and infamous stock manipulations confounded such formidable tycoons as Jay Gould and J.P. Morgan and earned her the ignominious title “The Witch of Wall Street.” But though she was a genius at making money, she developed an unparalleled hatred of spending it.
When she turned 33, she married Edward Green, another millionaire, but made him sign a prenuptial agreement not to claim any of her money. When he went broke speculating on stocks, they separated, and Hetty, though she had vast wealth, raised her two children under dingy conditions, moving from one cheap hotel to another to avoid paying personal property taxes.
To save money on clothes and laundry soap, she wore the same black dresses every day and washed only the bottom portion tha touched the ground. Hetty’s reluctance to spend money reached horrifying proportions when her son, Ned, injured his knee. She took him to a charity ward to be treated. Unfortunately for Ned, a doctor recognized his millionaire mother and demanded payment. She refused to pay and treated the boy’s injury herself. After two years, his leg had to be amputated.
She was far too cheap to pay rent for an office. Instead she conducted her financial dealings from the bank where she kept her fortune, threatening to withdraw it if the bank officers refused to let her use an available desk. When she was feeling particularly unhappy, she would sometimes sit on the marble floor of the bank’s vault and admire her notes and securities, which she filed in the specially made pockets of her petticoat. For her meals she would warm up a bowl of oatmeal on the radiator or take out a ham sandwich, unwrapped, from one of her voluminous pockets.
Hetty’s lifelong stinginess even played a role in her death in 1916 at the age of 81. She suffered a stroke while arguing over the price of milk. Her son Ned hired nurses toc are for her before she died, but had them dress in street clothes for fear that Hetty’s condition would worsen if she realized moneywas being spent to pay nursing bills.
As a final irony, Ned, who inherited much of his mother’s vast fortune, became an extravangant spender. He threw millions away on lavish parties, expensive jewelry, yachts, even diamond-studded chamber pots.