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Hetty Green

Hetty Green (1835-1916) was a US businesswoman famous for her stinginess.

Hetty Green was born Henrietta Howland Robinson in November 21 1835 in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Her family were Quakers who owned large whaling fleet but did not maintain an opulent lifestyle. At the age of two she was living with her grandfather Gideon Howland. Due to his influence and that of her father, Edward Mott Robinson, and possibly because her mother Abby Howland was constantly ill, she took to her father's side and was reading financial papers to her father by the age of six. When she was 13, Hetty became the family bookkeeper. At the age of fifteen, Hetty went to a school in Boston.

When her father died in 1864, she inherited $7.5 million in liquid assets against the objections of most of her family, and invested in Civil War Bonds. However, when she heard that her aunt Sylvia had willed most of her $2 million for charity, she contested the will with a document she had probably written herself. She fought for five years and lost.

At the age of 33 she married Edward Henry Green, member of a wealthy Vermont family. She made him renounce all rights to her money before the wedding on July 11 1867. There are claims that she married only so that her relatives could not get their hands on her money. The married couple moved to Edward's home in Manhattan, but when her cousins tried to sue her for forgery, they moved to London where they lived in the Langham Hotel. Her two children, Ned and Sylvia, were born there.

When they returned to the USA, they went to Edward's hometown in Bellow's Falls, Vermont. She began to quarrel with her husband and in-laws but also with the domestic servants and neighborhood shopkeepers. Eventually Edward Green got tired and divorced her. When he died in 1902, Hetty Green moved to Hoboken, New Jersey with her children and traveled daily to her bank in New York City.

Hetty Green was mainly interested in business and there are many tales of various accuracy of her stinginess. She never turned on the heat or used hot water. She wore one old black dress and undergarments that she changed only after they had been worn out. She did not wash her hands and rode an old carriage. She ate mostly pies that cost fifteen cents. One tale claims that she spent a night looking for a lost stamp worth two cents.

Green made much of her business sitting in the floor of the Seaboard National Bank in New York in a middle of a trunks and suitcases full of her papers; she did not want to pay rent for an office. Later unfounded rumors claimed that she ate only oatmeal she heated on the office radiator. Possibly because of the stiff competition of mostly male business environment she developed an abrasive personality and earned a nickname of "Witch of Wall Street". However, she was a successful businesswoman who dealt mainly in real estate and invested to railroads, in addition to lending money. She wanted to handle everything herself and could travel thousands of miles to collect a debt of few hundred dollars - always in the cheapest possible way.

She was equally harsh to her children. Her son Ned broke his leg as a child but Hetty took him away from hospital when she was recognized. She tried to treat him at home but the leg contracted gangrene and had to be amputated - he ended up with a cork prosthesis. When he moved away from her mother, he became a spendthrift philatelist, who formed one of the finest stamp collections ever in private hands.

Her daughter Sylvia became a silent woman who also wore old clothes. Hetty disapproved of all her suitors because she suspected they only wanted to get their hands on her money. When Hetty finally let Matthew Wilks to marry Sylvia, she made him waive all rights to her money.

When her children left home, Hetty moved to a two-room fifth-floor apartment- two rooms merely because she did not want to receive customers in her bedroom.

In her old age she began to suffer from bad hernia but refused to have an operation because it cost $150. She suffered many strokes and had to rely on a wheelchair. She also became afraid that she would be kidnapped and made detours to evade the would-be pursuers. She began to suspect that her aunt and father had been poisoned.

Hetty Green died 1916 at the age of 80. Reputedly she had a heart attack when she was arguing with a maid about the price of milk. Estimate of her net worth was around $100-200 million.