She was born Henrietta Howland Robinson in New Bedford, Massachusetts in 1834. The family were Quakers and the richest in the city making their money through their large fleet of whalers.
Her father impressed the need to be frugal on his daughter and advised her to ‘never owe anyone anything, not even a kindness’.
Green’s mother suffered ill-health and at the age of two she lived with her grandfather. His eyesight was failing and she would read the financial news to him so that as a teenager she knew more about stocks and shares than most businessmen.
She opened her first savings account when she was eight, depositing the $1.50 weekly allowance she received and when she was just thirteen she became the family bookkeeper in charge of the household expenses. And when she was twenty, her father bought her a wardrobe full of the finest dresses of the season which she promptly sold and bought government bonds with the proceeds.
Her mother died in 1860 and left Green $8,000, equivalent to $218,000 in 2017, and in 1861 she and her father moved to New York. It was there that she met and married Edward Henry Green, fourteen years her senior, but only after he had signed a prenuptial agreement that he would renounce all rights to her money.
Green inherited $5,000 from her father when he died in 1865 and she began to earn a reputation for ruthlessness when it came to money. When her aunt died and left her fortune to charity, Green challenged her will in court producing an earlier will that included a clause invalidating any subsequent wills only for it to be proved to be a forgery!
[themedy_pullright colour=”theme” colour_custom=”#515151″ text=”She spent the early hours one night searching that carriage for a lost stamp worth two cents.”]She continued to invest her money until she was by far the richest woman in the world but Green was also a notorious miser. She would never heat her home or use hot water and rode in an old carriage. It is also said that she spent the early hours one night searching that carriage for a lost stamp worth two cents.
Neither was she extravagant in her business affairs and based herself at the Seaboard National Bank rather than rent her own office. There she brought dry oatmeal for lunch, adding water and heating it on the radiator and because of her black veil and dress she became known as The Witch of Wall Street.
In later life, Green moved repeatedly among small apartments in Brooklyn Heights and Hoboken, New Jersey, mainly to avoid having a residence permanent enough to attract the attention of tax officials in either state and she developed a bad hernia but refused to have an operation because it cost $150.
Green died in 1916 reportedly of apoplexy after arguing with a maid over the virtues of skimmed milk. She left behind her an estimated fortune of between $100 million to $200 million, equivalent to $2.25 billion to $4.5 billion in 2018.