Financial History 143 Fall 2022 | Page 13

The Story of


America ’ s First Value Investor and Financial Grandmaster

Collection of the Museum of American Finance
“ I buy when things are low and no one wants them . I keep them , just as a I keep a considerable number of diamonds on hand , until they go up and people are anxious to buy .”
— Hetty Green , The Queen of Wall Street ( 1905 )
By Mark Higgins
Value investing is a philosophy defined by the discipline of purchasing assets only when prices fall comfortably below fair market value and selling them when prices exceed fair market value . Ben Graham is almost universally regarded as the founder of value investing ; however , before he was born , a woman named Hetty Green also used similar methods to tame the wild markets of the Gilded Age . Further , Green developed these principles instinctively at an early age , enabling her to profit from
Undated full-length photograph of financier Henrietta “ Hetty ” Green . several market panics that ruined many of her male contemporaries .
At the peak of her career , Green was the most creditworthy lender to America ’ s most respected stock operators , corporations and even city governments . Her accomplishments are extraordinary by any standard , but what makes them even more impressive is that she succeeded despite lacking the advantages afforded to men at the time . She could not purchase a seat on the New York Stock Exchange , serve as a director on a corporate board or even exercise the right to vote .
A Virtual Orphan
Henrietta “ Hetty ” Howland Robinson was born on November 21 , 1834 in New Bedford , Massachusetts . The Robinsons were a wealthy family , as Hetty ’ s maternal great grandfather had amassed a fortune investing in the whaling industry . The family ’ s wealth ensured that Hetty was never deprived of material needs , but her emotional needs were another matter . Hetty ’ s father , Edward Robinson , longed for a male heir and was disappointed when his wife , Abby , gave birth to a girl ; their second child , Isaac , died in infancy . Edward ’ s disappointment created marital tension , and Hetty ’ s parents responded by sending her to live with her aunt , Sylvia Howland , and grandfather , Gideon Howland , for most of her childhood .
Hetty showed a keen interest in mathematics and finance as a child . Her interest blossomed when Gideon ’ s failing vision prevented him from reading financial documents and newspaper reports relating to
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