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Angel in Disguise

updated 12/18/1995 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/18/1995 01:00AM

ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE KNEW Anne Scheiber, and few can recall her smiling. Instead they remember a friendless, pathologically frugal woman who seemed as bitter as Baker's chocolate. Never married and long since estranged from all but two of her nine siblings, she rented the same New York City studio apartment for 50 years and lived surrounded by furniture she had bought in 1944. She wore the same hat and coat nearly every day, regardless of the season. So the news that became public two weeks ago is doubly startling: Not only had Scheiber, who died last January at 101, built a fortune of $22 million, but she willed all of it to needy students at Yeshiva's Stern College for Women in New York City—a school she had never visited. "She got a lot of satisfaction knowing she was leaving this money," says Benjamin Clark, Scheiber's tax lawyer. "She'd say, 'Someday, when I'm long dead, there will be some women who won't have to fend for themselves.' "

For most of her life, Scheiber was forced to do just that. Born in Brooklyn, she was raised primarily by her mother, Rose, a real estate broker, after her father had died prematurely. Scheiber started night school and went to work as a bookkeeper at 15, later entering Washington's National University (a forerunner of George Washington University) Law School. But rather than practice law after graduating in 1924, she stayed with the more secure auditor's job she had landed four years earlier with the IRS. Despite a stellar performance during the next 19 years, she was never promoted; Scheiber blamed the slight on the fact that she was a woman and a Jew. "The IRS treated her quite shabbily," says Clark. "She was very bitter."

Upon retiring in 1943, Scheiber decided to get even by getting rich. She returned to New York City and dedicated her life to playing the stock market. "She never tried to outguess the market," says William Fay, Scheiber's broker since the '70s. Her strategy: Invest in blue-chip companies and hold on. By the time she died, her initial $5,000 investment had increased 439,900 percent.

Clark delivered the gift to a stunned Dr. Norman Lamm, Yeshiva's president, in January. "Ms. Scheiber was a very unhappy woman whose only joy came from accumulating wealth," says Lamm, who will oversee the Anne Scheiber Scholarship and Loan Fund Awards. "Now in one fell swoop, she has managed to gain immortality."

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