Hetty Green: The Witch of Wall Street

We love to spotlight cool money chicks. In this spotlight, meet Hetty Green.

Hetty Green was known as The Witch of Wall Street, but we prefer QUEEN.

Way ahead of her time, Queen Hetty lived her life fearlessly and fully in control of her financial future.

As you might imagine, this was NOT normal for the time period and she was heavily criticized for it. But, did she care? Nope.

Hetty Green just kept doing her thing and we are super here for it.

Full disclosure, Hetty Green was born into a wealthy family circa 1834, so she did have a bit of a head start (as most fabulously wealthy people do).

But, she took that money and ran with it, increasing her fortune over the course of her life and making innovative financial decisions along the way.

So, how’d she do it?

Her only brother died when she was very young, which left Hetty as the sole heir to her family’s fortune.

Once they knew she’d have to take over one day, Hetty’s father and grandfather taught her how to look after her own financial affairs and property so that she wouldn’t have to rely on anyone else (dad and grandpa knew she wouldn’t need no man and we’re super here for that, too).

However, they did have a few ulterior motives — which we’ll get to in a bit.

So, from a young age, Hetty could take care of herself and nothing about that changed when she got married.

She married a wealthy Vermont businessman named Edward Henry Green who was a millionaire by the age of 44.

Hetty’s first smart move was having Edward sign a prenuptial agreement that separated their finances — she knew he was prone to risky investments and extravagant spending.

Unlike other women of her time, Hetty refused to give her husband control of her finances or any of her property — because she was a total badass.

For a while, they lived happily in London and had a couple kids, but Edward’s debt continued to grow.

When she learned that Edward planned to use her money to cover his losses (are you kidding?), Hetty sought to permanently leave what was already an unhappy marriage and make her own way in the world.

Okay, but that inheritance thing?

Right. Hetty would struggle with her right to family inheritances quite literally her entire life.

Hetty’s father had always promised she would be the only one to inherit the family fortune. Hetty worked hard as her father’s assistant, assuming that her hard work would one day pay off in the form of that sweet inheritance money.

When Hetty’s father died, however, he left her about $900,000 directly and about $5 million in trust, a sneaky move that clearly insinuated he didn’t fully trust her with the fortune.

The disappointments would continue.

When her Aunt Sylvia died, the family fortune was split into $1 million for charities and $1 million in trust for Hetty as investments.

Understandably pissed off, Hetty produced a letter that claimed she was the only heir to Sylvia’s fortune, but her family claimed the letter was forged.

They fought about it for a while. Hetty would run into this problem time and time again — family would leave her money, someone would contest it, she would win or she wouldn’t, etcetera.

Moving On… 

Long story short, there was a lot of inheritance drama.

What’s important is what Hetty did with the money she did have.

With her family setting up roadblocks all over the place and her husband solely focused on his own interests, Hetty forged ahead on her own and took full control of her finances and assets as an independent (and single!) woman.

She was a queen of investing, buying stock when it was low and selling it when it was high.

She’d carefully research and strategize investments, including railroads, real estate, and government bonds.

She was also crazy frugal and supposedly stone cold in her business practices — hence, her nickname.

There are some disconcerting stories about her refusing medical treatment for her son or wearing clothes till they would literally fall to pieces to save money. Whether the rumors are true or not, her strategy worked.

By her death in 1916, Hetty was the richest woman in the world. She had over $100 million. If you’re curious what that would be in today dollars, here it is: $2.5 billion.

Whatever her tactics, Hetty became a symbol for female independence.

She would offer women (and men) advice on business.

She believed that women should learn about bank accounts and finances and how interest works.

She believed married women could also be business women.

And, most importantly, she believed that any woman should be able to make her own living — with or without a crazy inheritance.

In that way, nothing has changed.

Women are just as entitled today to financial freedom as Hetty was in 1834 — the rest of the world just didn’t know it then.

Yeah, women still face some huge struggles (hello, we’re still paid less than men), but it’s more accessible than ever to learn how to manage your own finances, strategize effectively, and invest wisely.

That’s why we’re here to give you the tools you need to make your own badass financial decisions, just like Hetty… but maybe with less letting-your-son’s-leg-be-amputated-to-save-on-medical-expenses. That’d be cool.

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