‘Richest Woman in America’ spotlights influential Wall Street figure

Meshal Muhammad

“The Richest Woman in America” by Janet Wallach is a biography of pioneering female business tycoon Hetty Green, who was also known as “The Witch of Wall Street” among journalists of the time. The book follows two stories: that of Green’s life and that of the United States during it.

Wallach details the factors that led to each recession and expansion during Green’s life. Many of the same indicators can be seen during the busts and booms of the late 20th and 21st centuries.

The reader will expect to learn about Green’s life but will leave with much more. While telling this witch’s tale, Wallach paints a vibrant picture of a Gilded Age-era United States, giving descriptions of major cities like New York City during several busts and booms that occurred during the mid to late 1800s and early 1900s.

Wallach describes the prosperity that overtook New York City, where people demolished old institutions to make way for new ones, writing “so frequent that Harper’s Magazine complained that the city was unrecognizable for anyone born forty years before.”

The biography is suited for those who want a glimpse into what life looked like in the United States after World War II in an easy-to-digest story form.

The author also draws parallels between Green and the saga of American business magnate Warren Buffett. Both have similar investing strategies — buy when everyone is selling, and sell when everyone is buying — with Green saying,“Watch your pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves.”

Green is painted as a human who makes mistakes and is far from perfect.

Although she is a self-made billionaire — after inheriting her aunt’s $2 million estate and a similar amount from her father — it can be argued that beyond her greed, she helps make the country better. She is recorded giving New York low interest loans during times of crisis, deploying her son to buy closed railroad tracks in Texas to improve and make travel easier for people and donating great amounts of money to charity, and left much of her money to them.

Green was an advocate of women’s financial education. Although many of her beliefs were those of a “Simple Quaker Woman,” she believed that women should know their finances, even saying she believes there is no reason a woman can’t be a wife, run a home and do business. Some of her other views on issues like the women’s suffrage movement and having a female president weren’t as progressive.

Green led an eventful life filled with tragedy, adventure and hard work. It is admirable to see a woman in her time doing business with men and doing so well. The Gilded Age is known as a time of great economic growth, and watching Green navigate these times while remaining true to herself is something anyone who reads the book can apply to their own lives.