The Witch of Wall Street

800px-hetty_greenHetty Green was a famously shrewd investor on Wall Street when women still had to sneak “a growler” at the back door of a saloon. Having been to enough bars in my early 20’s to witness drunken women collapsed in dark corners with their skirts up I sometimes wonder if bringing the tradition of women drinking at home back might be a good idea. 😉

Hetty was a Quaker so maybe she didn’t drink. She was miserly, too, so probably wouldn’t have paid for a martini (invented during the Gold Rush, btw).

When her father died he left Hetty a fortune to invest. She’d opened her first bank account at age 8 and read to her blind grandfather all the financial news of the day so was well prepared for taking her place among the Wall Street warlocks of the day.  Her dying father suggested that he’d been poisoned by someone seeking his fortune and that Hetty should expect the same.

What can we say about misers?

“Hetty Green’s stinginess was legendary. She was said never to turn on the heat or use hot water. She wore one old black dress and undergarments that she changed only after they had been worn out, did not wash her hands and rode in an old carriage. She ate mostly pies that cost fifteen cents. One tale claims that Green spent half a night searching her carriage for a lost stamp worth two cents. Another asserts that she instructed her laundress to wash only the dirtiest parts of her dresses (the hems) to save money on soap.” WIKIPEDIA

Eccentric men of history abound and some probably didn’t wash their hands. I fear women sometimes don’t like being harshly judged as men often are. My sons recover more quickly from dressings down by rivals and friends than my daughters do. It seems Hetty didn’t suffer fools lightly, but modern women tend to take real offense at being called horrible names. It’s as if they feel they should be treated better than men somehow.

Hetty made sure when marrying to get her spendthrift investor husband to renounce all rights to her fortune. Being such a cool-headed woman of finance who bought low and sold high, who kept tons of cash on hand to swoop in during panics to buy up other people’s heartache and who was even called upon by the city of New York to lend money to keep the metropolis afloat more than once, I wonder what the attraction to her husband was. I suspect she was drawn to his lack of control for a time. The marriage failed.

But as people say, the marriage wasn’t a complete failure. They raised two beautiful children (don’t you kind of hate that saying? I’d still prefer not to have had a failed marriage).

Hetty’s son broke his leg as a child. Hetty was rich but wanted to save money so she brought Ned to a free clinic for the poor. They screwed up his leg and after much pain and suffering (on the part of poor Ned) his leg was amputated.

An independent woman making wise investments on Wall Street is admirable (if you don’t mind preying on weakness, greed and stupidity in some cases), but being such a cheapskate with your own children seems kind of witchy to me.

What do you think? Is calling a woman a witch going too far?  Where is the line drawn between cheap and sensible?

MORE ABOUT HETTY GREEN

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11 thoughts on “The Witch of Wall Street

  1. Can’t really click “like,” because it’s a horrifying story. “Witch” would be letting her off lightly. There were plenty of educated women by the 1920s, some of them (such as my grandmother, who graduated college in 1912) did very well on the stock market — and still managed to be decent and even generous people. Like Scrooge, Hetty is the embodiment of the verse, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” In her case, it had gone from love to obsession. Frightening. One hopes it is a good cautionary tale to any who might think being evil and grasping is a good idea. And her poor children. That said, she had to have been absolutely miserable. Such a sad use of a good mind.

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  2. Sad to think that money was a better friend than people to Hetty, that her children were worth less than decent medical care. And then the bit about the free clinic being so medically inept that anyone might come away more injured than when they walked in.

    However, to address your point about labeling women: I think the outrage concerns unfairly labeling women for behavior that men also engage in without any label at all. It’s the injustice that creates anger.

    And while I loathe drunkeness, I despise men (or women) who take advantage of anyone who gets drunk, especially since many intentionally inebriate their dates or drug them in order to take sexual advantage. It’s more complex perhaps than suggesting people should drink only at home. Sometimes being at home is just as dangerous. A better solution of course is to know your limits and drink less.

    As for Hetty, none of her lifestyle sounds fulfilling, not her greed, her stinginess, or her filth.

    But a very interesting bit of history, Adrienne. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I was joking about getting drunk at home. Having been married to an alcoholic sometimes gives me a dark sense of humor.

      I too hate people who take advantage of a person’s weakness but in my experience there are a lot of liaisons where both parties are wasted and do things they normally wouldn’t. I get frustrated with women who want to play the victim while also pretending they can take care of themselves after guzzling alcohol. I basically hate the whole scene. (and yeah, it’s way more complex than my blog post).

      I think the people who say outrageous things about women just know how to get to them sometimes. Men could care less if you made fun of their suits or said they were vicious etc. I’m not sure what men get affronted by to be honest. 🙂

      Despite years of social engineering men and women behave in horrifying ways sometimes. I may be a little hard on women. I think a while back I said I was only going to feature uplifting people–haha!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. OK, well, that turned my stomach about her poor son losing his leg. She obviously had some sort of mental illness to be such an extreme miser. Ugh. (that’s a shudder)

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    • I don’t know why but your comment made me laugh. I hadn’t even thought of mental illness! This was a pretty dark post for the holiday season, I guess! LOL.

      Maybe it was just when you open the door to your dark side it can take you in terrible directions.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Even though Hetty raised two good sons… I bet they hated her… esp. the one whose leg had to be amputated. I don’t mean to sound mean but even someone with no money will do almost anything to get her child the kind of health care he/she needs. What a big waste of lots of wonderful money on a woman with SERIOUS problems mentally. On another note, I remember reading about some very wealthy older woman… maybe during the time of Louis XIV … whose hands were so dirty that the dirt was actually caked on.. Yuck – I bet all the men REALLY were concerned when came time to kiss her hand… ; o )

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    • The son actually worked for her as an adult! Maybe Hetty felt bad about the whole thing but on the surface it sounds pretty awful. She also moved from house to house to avoid paying taxes. She’d make a good character in a novel though.

      My sister once got a staph infection from either the subway or a dirty telephone in the city (back in the days of public phones). It’s amazing we aren’t all sick!

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