Hetty Green was a mean-spirited, tightfisted, shrewd woman! Born Henrietta Howland Robinson in 1835, she is listed in Guiness Book of World Records as the greatest of misers. Hetty’s father, Edward Mott Robinson, and her aunt Sylvia Ann Howland both died in 1865, leaving her an inheritance of nearly $10 million (worth some $185 million in today’s dollars). Hetty immediately began investing in the financial markets, scoring her first major success after the Civil War as she bought depreciated U.S. government bonds from skittish investors. Her philosophy was simple: “Buy cheap and sell dear”–and she had an instinct for knowing when which was which!
Hetty herself lived in cheap boarding houses in Manhattan and Brooklyn, taking public transportation to her Wall Street “office”–the vault of Chemical National Bank. There she sat, clipping coupons from her municipal bonds, and diligently pouring over financial reports and forecasts. Known as The Witch of Wall Street,” Hetty’s disposition was so repugnant that she had no friends and people avoided her.
Even Hetty’s son was the recipient of her mean-spirited cheapness. When he injured his knee, Hetty refused to pay for a doctor and treated the injury herself. Two years later, when her son’s knee still hadn’t healed, Hetty dressed him in rags and pretended to be a charity case. When the doctor learned who she was and demanded payment, Hetty left his office in a rage. Several years later, the boy’s leg had to be amputated.
Hetty herself lived off cold oatmeal because she was too stingy to heat it, and died of apoplexy in an argument over the virtues of skimmed milk. The year was 1916, and she left behind every penny of some $100 million (equal to about $1.5 billion today). Friendless and pathetic, Hetty Green was reputedly the wealthiest woman in the U.S. at that time.
“Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who have it all to enter God’s Kingdom?” Jesus asked. “I’d say it’s easier to thread a camel through a needle’s eye than get a rich person into God’s Kingdom” (Luke 18:24-25/the Message).