Thursday, December 6, 2012


Henrietta Howland Robinson, known as Hetty Green, beat the robber barons at their own game; invested her dowry in bonds rather than in a husband and was the first woman to make a substantial impact on Wall Street. Why should we be interested in Hetty? Because this feisty Victorian , despite stiff competition of the mostly male business environment, paved the way for women to think differently about their circumstances. Hetty was known for her financial prowess and ability to parlay her wealth through shrewdly investing in the stock market and made a fortune on wall street. Hetty Geeen was an American woman determined to succeed and this in itself is a remarkable feat that she achieved in the Gilded Age.
MARRIAGE AND INVESTING Hetty wasn’t expected to do anything particular but to marry and bring in capital that would then be managed by a male, family member. It was the era when women did not have control of their finances or inheritance. Hetty would shun such an idea and set her path of independence from the start. As was the custom when time came for marriage, her parents handed Hetty $l,200 for gowns and carriages and sent her off to the nation’s financial capital to attract a spouse. Nothing doing, Hetty invested $l, 000 of that money in bonds and from then on she was on a roll, caught up in the web of investing.
GREEN’S HERITAGE Hetty was born, Henrietta Howland Robinson in 1834-1916, and her family was wealthy merchants owning vast fleets of whaling ships in New Bedford, MA. Early on Henrietta (Hetty) cleaved to her father and from the age of six she was reading financial newspapers to him and this is how she learned about stocks and bonds; by thirteen Hetty became the family bookkeeper. At the age of 33, Hetty married Edward Henry Green, a member of a wealthy Vermont family. Ahead of her time, she made him renounce all rights to her money before the wedding on July 11, 1867. The young couple moved to London and there raised a son, Edward Howland Robinson ‘Ned’ Green and daughter Hetty Sylvia Ann Howland Green. When her father died in 1864, Hetty inherited $7.5 million and started a legal campaign to get access to the money she inherited. Against the objections of most of her family , she invested in Civil War bonds.
A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS WOMAN When the family returned to New York City Hetty began parlaying her inheritances into her own astonishing fortune. She conducted much of her business at the offices of the Seaboard National Bank in order to avoid paying rent elsewhere and this begins a routine of stinginess and denial when she could easily have afforded all the luxuries that her wealth could afford.. She could be seen in the financial arenas of business wearing her unusually dour dress, which was mostly black and which she rarely cleaned as it being too expensive to do so, and this formidable appearance she was nicknamed, “The Witch of Wall Street.” Surrounded by her trunks and papers she ate frugally. Yet she was a successful business woman who dealt mainly in real estate, invested in railroads, and lent money. It is legendary that on several occasions the city o f New York came to Hetty in need of loans, particularly during the Panic of 1907 when she wrote a check for $l.l million.
DENIAL TO THE END Sadly, Hetty’s stinginess carried over to the welfare of her children. When her son Ned broke his leg she denied him immediate professional medical attention deeming it too expensive and held back her daughter from marriage because she disapproved of all over Sylvia’s suitors because she suspected they wanted to get their hands on her money. When her children left home Hetty moved repeatedly to small apartments in different boroughs, mainly to avoid tax officials in any state. She failed in the great arena of philanthropy as parting with money was at the hallmark of her stinginess. So fearful was she of parting with money that she did not underwrite the great institutions, libraries or hospitals of the era. When it came to finance Hetty was a genius; yet she led a life of extreme thrift.

In Janet Wallach’s book, The Richest Woman in America, Doubleday she says that Hetty was a talented investor who had the bad luck to be born in an era when the guild of Victorian men, shut out a whole class of minds---women’s. Fortunately, not so today, women have scaled the heights of management and proving their mettle and breaking new ground in the financial world.

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