The Fabulously Wealthy ‘Witch Of Wall Street’ May Have Been The Most Frugal Person Ever

At a time when rampant sexism still raged across the world, Hetty Green built a fortune all of her own. In fact, she soon became one of the richest women in the world. But she earned plenty of enemies along the way, and even today, her reputation as the “Witch of Wall Street” lingers. But was she really such a terrible miser — and why did she live in such a way?

The New World

When Green was born Henrietta “Hetty” Howland Robinson in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1834 it was against the backdrop of an America that was changing fast. As the New World established itself as a desirable place to live and work, the number of immigrants arriving in the country had increased rapidly. Meanwhile, the ever-expanding railroads meant that prosperity was spreading inexorably west from the eastern cities.

Hetty Green

Everywhere you looked, it seemed, people were making their fortunes — and Green’s family were no exception. Her father, Edward Mott-Robinson, had already enjoyed some success as a businessman when he met and married the wealthy heiress Abby Howland. Descended from Quakers, she would go on to inherit a profitable whaling empire from her father Isaac.

Starting early

As a child, Green would help her grandfather by reading the newspaper’s financial segments out loud — a habit which exposed her to business at a young age. And by the time she was six years old, she was performing the same task for her father, now the head of the Howlands’ whaling company.  

A natural

According to reports, Green was a natural with money, soon mastering complex systems and learning to trade. And when she became a teenager, she was handed the huge responsibility of keeping the family books. In a time when women were mostly kept away from financial affairs, Edward brought his daughter along to meet brokers and attend meetings.