The Story of a Cheap Millionaire Whose Son Lost His Leg Because of Her Greed
The main character of this article is a very rich American woman named Hetty Green. She inherited a lot of money and she managed to increase her wealth significantly. And all of this happened at a time when men controlled all the money! It’s no surprise that Hetty’s contemporaries didn’t like her much and they loved sharing facts about her that made her look bad.
We at Bright Side are amazed at the bright contrast between the opportunities a person has and their actual lifestyle. Like, when you have money, why not use it?
- Henrietta Hetty Howland Robinson was born into a rich family of Quakers — members of the Religious Society of Friends. Since the age of 6, she was taught to be careful with and save her money. Her grandfather rewarded his granddaughter’s curiosity by reading her newspapers about finances and discussing the stock market prices and sales reports.
- When Hetty turned 13 years old, she became the family accountant. Her handwriting was not very good and there were a lot of spelling mistakes in her words, but her numbers were absolutely perfect.
- When she was 20 years old, her father bought her a lot of really trendy dresses, so that his daughter would be able to attract a rich fiancé. But Hetty sold the dresses and invested all the money she made in government bonds.
- Money for money became the point of her entire life. When she was 30 years old, she inherited her father’s money, and despite every objection, she invested all of the money ($7.5 million) into " “greenbacks” — notes that were printed to finance the Civil War in the US.
- When Hetty found out that her aunt wrote a will where she wanted $2 million to be given to charity, she went to court and showed them an earlier will. According to that document, all the money of this deceased relative was supposed to go to Hetty and all the other wills were deemed invalid. The case went public and Hetty was unlucky: the court found that the will she presented was fake.
- After meeting a lot of men that only wanted her money, she decided to marry a man whose financial situation was even better than hers.
- At the age of 33, she met Edward Howland Robinson Green — a multimillionaire from Vermont. Yes, they loved each other, but even in the heat of pre-wedding preparations, Hetty didn’t forget the lessons she learned from her parents. As a result, they agreed on a prenuptial agreement that said that Edward wouldn’t receive any money from his future wife. Later, they had 2 children: a son named Ned and a daughter named Sylvia.
- Unfortunately, in 1885, Edward went bankrupt, and Henrietta left her husband, refusing to pay his debts. However, when 15 years later, Mr. Green’s health became worse, Hetty helped take care of him and she did it up until the day he died.
- After her husband’s death, Hetty started to wear mourning clothes — a black dress and a black heavy veil, so she was nicknamed the “Witch of Wall Street.” Another reason was that during the era when women were at home and all they did was the work around the house and raise children, Mrs. Green was building a successful business right alongside men.
- She said in her interviews many times, “My father had the idea that money, which one inherited, should be given over undiminished to the next generation. He thought that the person who inherited it had the full right to the use of the income, but that he ought not to spend the principal. This is the way I have felt.”
- As we said before, Hetty grew up in a family of Quakers where she was taught to be thrifty and unpretentious. And with age, Mrs. Green practiced this to the point of exhaustion. Her extreme stinginess in expenses became a topic of discussion among her contemporaries. Newspapers published pictures about Hetty, people told jokes about her, and writer O. Henry even made the millionaire the character of his story The Enchanted Profile.
“What will aunt Hetty do to Wall Street?” illustration from The World magazine, August 5, 1906
- According to some rumors, Hetty Green wore the same dress and didn’t even buy new underwear. Also, the millionaire made sure that her laundress wouldn’t use soap more often than was necessary. Hot water, according to some sources, was almost not used in her house: it was too expensive.
- The greed of the “richest American woman” also applied to her children. When her son Ned broke his leg, Hetty took him to a free hospital for poor people. There, the doctors helped the child however they could, but Ned’s leg still hurt. It only ended up getting worse and after several years of poor treatment, his leg had to be amputated.
- Hetty often went to the local store to buy broken cookies there which cost less than the regular ones, and also to get free bones for her dog.
- It was thought that Mrs. Green constantly moved from one district to another and rented cheap places. In order to mislead the press, she would use different names and once even borrowed her dog’s name.
- In the city, people would say that Hetty moved that often in order to hide from the press and from paying taxes. However, her son, in an interview for The New York Times, said that these things were just crazy ideas that were not true. According to him, she never did anything illegal and the only people she ever hid from were beggars. She never changed her home, only the location of her office.
- Ned Green told to the journalists after Henrietta died, “Once people find out that someone else has money to lend, you can’t even imagine the requests people make: they ask for loans, they send insane letters. In her last years, mother would often change the location of the office in order to hide from the money seekers.”
- But the rumors wouldn’t stop. One of the stories actually says that once Hetty dropped 2 cents in a carriage and spent half the night looking for it on the floor and under the seats.
The son of the millionaire Hetty and Edward Green, “Ned” Green
- There is nothing surprising about the fact that because she had so much money, by the time she was old, she was never able to relax. She thought that there were people trying to rob her everywhere. According to some stories, she carried the keys from her safety deposit boxes on a chain around her waist and she slept with a revolver tied to her arm with a rope.
- In the same interview for The New York Times, Hetty’s son Ned said that the false rumors that journalists started actually had a huge impact on her safety, “The fake information that the black bag she always carried with her had millions of dollars in it made her unable to walk alone and without a gun in the evening. She was constantly afraid of being attacked.”
- Also, there is a famous story about how, several years before she died, Mrs. Green had a hernia and she decided to see a doctor. Dr. Henry Pascal told her that treatment was necessary. And, allegedly, Hetty had her own way of dealing with the hernia: she put a wooden plank under her underwear that would press on the swelling. The visit, according to the witnesses, ended with Henrietta hearing that the surgery was going to cost her $150, and leaving the office.
Uncle Sam Collects Income Tax cartoon, 1895
- Hetty was singled out as one of the main cheapskates in America, but few people actually knew that she did some charity work. Her son claimed that his mother never talked about her donations and she made quite a few. Hetty often donated big sums of money $500, $1,000, $10,000. There was even a list of dozens of families that got monthly payments from her.
- Ned also shared the story of how his mom took care of her father’s old accountant, Benjamin Lawton. When Hetty got into the business, Lawton started working for her. When he grew old, it was hard for him, but he still came to the office every day and sat at his desk. But most of the time, he just spent napping. Ned wanted to fire Benjamin, but Hetty wouldn’t let him. She said that losing his job would definitely kill him. She kept Lawton and she paid him his salary until he died.
Hetty Green and her daughter Sylvia, with her husband Matthew Wilkes
- According to Wikipedia, the Guinness Book of Records has a record about the greediest person in the world, which says that Henrietta Green died from a stroke while she was arguing with a housemaid over the advantages of cheap low-fat milk. The son of the millionaire revealed a different reason: his mother had several strokes that finally lead to her death.
Quotes by Hetty Green
- On carrying a revolver: “Mostly to protect myself against lawyers. I’m not much afraid of burglars or highwaymen.”
- Good advice: “Never speculate in Wall Street; eat slowly; don’t stay up all night; don’t drink ice water; keep out of drafts.”
- About business: “When I see a thing, going cheap because nobody wants it, I buy a lot of it and tuck it away. Then, when they go up, they have to hunt me down and pay me a good price for my holdings.”
- About the Vanderbilt family: “I loaned money to the New York Central, but when the Vanderbilt family applied I refused them. They came to me some little time ago — before the wedding — and brought a box that was 2 feet long, containing the famous Vanderbilt jewels. They wanted me to take them as security and lend them the money. But Lord bless you, I know nothing about diamonds and such things.”
- About the bank panic in 1907: “Those to whom I loaned my money got it at 6 percent. I might just as easily have secured 40 percent. But never in my life, no matter what has been said against me, have I practiced usury, and no one knows it better than the wealthy men who have had business dealings with me.”
- The secret of success and feeling great: “I get up at 8 o’clock in the morning and I am at work until late in the evening. I am very careful of my eating. I use the best of plain food, but avoid knick-knacks. I avoid sugar and butter, for I believe they do not agree with me. It is not on the grounds of economy, but of health.”
Our team was amazed by how a mother can be so cheap when it comes to her own child’s health. And the fact that, despite all that, he still cared about her reputation. Why do you think she did that?
Preview photo credit East News