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Hetty Green was the inspiration for passage of the 1894 Income Tax Act and the 1916 Estate Tax Act. She was the shrewdest and richest woman in America, and an eccentric miser. Her wealth was estimated at $100 million. She was the only woman listed among the 40 richest Gilded Age millionaires.

The New York Tribune reported, “Mrs. Green wore what once had been a black dress, which must have been of practically indestructible material. It turned brown, then green, and still she wore it; and carried an umbrella and handbag of about the same era as her dress.” This outfit was quite a sight in the financial district, and it earned her the nickname, “the Witch of Wall Street.” (Her agent who collected rent on her Chicago properties was named W.B. Frankenstein. Really!)

Hetty had no grandchildren. Her daughter, Sylvia was six feet tall, not pretty, and reportedly had “no trace of a personality.” She didn’t wed until 1909 at age 38 when she married Matthew Astor Wilks, the 63-year-old great-grandson of John Jacob Astor.

Her son Ned injured his left knee when he was 14. She treated the wound herself and relied on free clinics to avoid a medical bill. His leg eventually turned gangrenous and had to be amputated above the knee. Following a 1910 interview in Paris where he expressed a desire to find a wife, Ned received 5,000 written marriage proposals. But he claimed that women were only interested in his money. This six-foot-four, 300 pound eccentric, who lavished millions on racing cars, yachts, planes, coins, stamps, politics and pornography, didn’t marry until age 48, a year after his mother died. His 47-year-old bride, his “housekeeper” for 15 years, was a former prostitute.

To minimize expenses and to evade tax collectors, Hetty lived in cheap boarding houses, eventually settling into a $19 per month apartment in Hoboken, N.J. under the assumed name, Mrs. Dewey, after her shaggy dog, Dewey. It left collectors guessing where to find her and the proper state in which to tax her. Hoboken imposed a $2 annual dog license, which she also refused to pay, so she had to keep ahead of the dog catcher too. She adored Dewey. Though she subsisted on oatmeal (heated on a radiator), graham crackers (purchased in bulk), and raw onions, she always fed Dewey tenderloin steaks and rice pudding.

There's more about Hetty Green, her eccentric children, how her fortune eventually disappeared into nothing, and the tax woes of other millionaires in:

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