A Woman to Know: Hetty Green

Buy cheap and sell, dear. — Hetty Green

(image via The Library of Congress)

In an era when women were heralded as Gilden Age beauties, feminine angels unsullied by money and power, Hetty Green had plans of her own: to become the richest woman in the world.

When her husband fell into financial ruin in 1885, Hetty moved swiftly: she separated her finances from his, kicked him out of the house and began investing her money in earnest. She was notoriously frugal, eating gruel and wearing old clothes to save money. It worked: over the next 30 years, she accumulated a billion-dollar fortune in railroads, Manhattan real estate and more.

People mocked her stinginess and her all-black ensembles. They called her "The Witch of Wall Street." But that didn't stop them asking her for money. Before her death at 81, Hetty conducted a sophisticated lending operation from her small Hoboken apartment. at one point, legend has it, the city of New York even came to her for a loan.

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