3.8 Hetty Green, Queen of Wall Street

Hetty Green, Queen of Wall Street

In 1834, a little girl named Hetty was born to a Quaker family in New Bedford, Massachusetts. At the age of 8, she gathered up what she had saved from her weekly allowance, got a ride into town and opened a bank account so she could earn compound interest. That was just the beginning. By the time she was through the New York Times was calling her the “Queen of Wall Street” and New York City was hoping she would bail them out. Listen to hear her story!

This episode is part of Series 3: Women and Money Matters.

Selected Sources and Images:

My major source was The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age by Janet Wallach.

There are a couple of other biographies of Hetty Green including this much older one from 1935: The Witch Of Wall Street: Hetty Green by Boyden Sparkes and Samuel Taylor Moore. For an analysis of the statistical arguments in the forgery case, I also consulted “Benjamin Peirce and the Howland Will” by Paul Meier and Sandy Zabell, published in the Journal of the American Statistical Association, Vol. 75, No. 371. (Sep., 1980), pp. 497-506.

And speaking of the forgery case, what is your opinion of the signatures on the left? The first is indisputably Hetty’s aunt Sylvia’s. But the following two are disputed. Do you think Hetty forged them?

Source: from the Meier-Zabell article above.

Those who wanted a billionaire to be opulent were disappointed in Hetty Green. She preferred simple black clothes at all times. Many of her critics said her clothes were so worn through a maid would be above wearing them.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Hetty continued her business dealings well into her 70s. But age caught up with her, and she died in 1916 at the age of 81. She was buried in a plain coffin, wrapped in a simple cloth in her chosen residence of Vermont. The funds that she had only held in trust scattered according to the terms of the trust. But that was trivial compared with the fortune she had built herself, and her children inherited some $2 billion dollars in today’s money, which was precisely the legacy that Hetty had wanted to leave.

Image from Wikimedia Commons

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