They're rich. They're powerful. They're naughty. No, we're not talking about the Hilton sisters. We're referring to some notoriously loaded ladies who built massive fortunes - but not entirely through honest work.
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To put it nicely, these wealthy women cut a few corners along the way to earn their riches. They twisted, bent and sometimes broke the law to bring home the bacon, and their dirty deeds landed some of them behind bars. In honor of Women's History Month, we look at three of the most infamous female financiers.
Evangeline Adams: The Fortunate Fortune-Teller
Infamous female financiers are not a just modern-day phenomenon. It turns out that women have been breaking the law to build their fortunes for decades.
Take the clairvoyant Evangeline Adams. Born in 1868, Adams became the most celebrated astrologer and fortune teller of her time. After training in the art of astrology in Boston in 1887, she started a highly profitable fortune-telling "consulting" business. She served many prominent clients, including J.P. Morgan, Charles Schwab, actress Tallulah Bankhead and famous writer Joseph Campbell.
Rumor has it that Adams correctly predicted the Windsor Hotel fire, the stock market crash of 1929, World War II, the death of King Edward VII and even her own demise - down to the very day. In addition to charging for her astrology readings, as a published author, Adams made some heavy dollars on her autobiography as well as a couple of popular astrology books.
While Adams' work doesn't sound like much of an offense in this day and age, fortune-telling was actually illegal back in the early 1900s. In 1911, she was arrested for it in New York City. Adams' arrest gained the nation's attention, causing her to skyrocket in popularity.
As she stood trial in 1914, Adams came to court armed with reference books and predictions, and she explained the principles of astrology to the court. Rumor has it that she described the judge's son's precise character traits based only on his birthday. The court ruled in her favor and acquitted her of all wrong-doing. The judge allegedly concluded that Evangeline Adams "had raised astrology to the dignity of an exact science." Today, many astrology enthusiasts credit Adams with legalizing the practice of astrology.
Victoria Woodhull: The Controversial Eccentric
Victoria Woodhull was born in 1838 as Victoria Claflin, the daughter of a con man, arsonist and fraudulent doctor. Considering her father's background, it's no surprise that Victoria would eventually stir up some controversy of her own.
After divorcing her first husband in 1864, Victoria and her sister, Tennessee, moved to New York City and befriended the recently widowed Cornelius Vanderbilt. In 1870, Vanderbilt helped the sisters open a brokerage house called Woodhull, Claflin & Company. Victoria and Tennessee became the first female stock brokers in the United States, and they made a fortune on the New York Stock Exchange.
The sisters used their massive profits to fund a women's rights and reform magazine. This is where the Woodhulls really sparked some outrage. The magazine advocated such scandalous causes as legalized prostitution, sex education, free love, vegetarianism and other "vulgar" topics. Soon after, Victoria started giving passionate speeches on women's suffrage, which gained her acceptance with many of Susan B. Anthony's National Woman Suffrage Association members. She was also nominated for the U.S. presidency in 1872 by the Equal Rights Party, making her the first woman to run for president.
However, when political critics started digging up dirt on Victoria, she responded by publishing a report about an alleged affair between prominent clergyman Reverend Henry Ward Beecher - who had publicly denounced her advocacy of free love - and a married church member. She was arrested just days before the election for sending "obscene materials" in the mail, but she was acquitted seven months later. After divorcing her second husband in 1876, Victoria and her sister moved to England.
Martha Stewart: One Crafty Lady
She's the guru of all things domestic, the authority on arts and crafts, the master baker, and, most recently, the lovable lawbreaker. Martha Stewart, the oh-so-charming hostess-with-the-mostest was convicted of conspiracy, making false statements and obstruction of justice in 2004.
On Dec. 27, 2001, Stewart sold $232,000 worth of ImClome Systems shares. The very next day, the Food and Drug Administration turned down the biotech company's application for a cancer-fighting drug, causing the stock to plummet in value. Martha Stewart's friend Sam Waksal just happened to own the company. Coincidence? Not so much.
Just hours after she was indicted on obstruction of justice charges, Stewart resigned as chairman and CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. (NYSE:MSO). After the court found her guilty in 2004, Stewart was fined $30,000 and sentenced to five months in federal prison (despite the fact that she steadfastly maintained her innocence).
After her prison stay, the maven of homemaking returned to her multimillion dollar, 153-acre New York estate to serve an additional five months of home detention.
But Stewart hasn't allowed the criminal controversy to cramp her style. After landing at the 377th spot on the Forbes "400 Richest People In America" list in 2005 with a net worth of $970 million, Martha is still cackling all the way to the bank.
Plus, it turns out that scandal did her company some good. During Stewart's confinement, shares of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia more than doubled to $35 per share. Although she no longer serves as an executive at Martha Stewart Living, her household name is still plastered across magazines, DVDs and Kmart home products across the nation.
The Bottom Line
Business women are just as susceptible to temptation and greed as their male contemporaries. These rule-bending ladies showed that not only could they compete in their male-dominated industries, but that in some cases, they'd do whatever was necessary to win.
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