Gertrude Stein's Early Years
Gertrude Stein was born the youngest of five children in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, to Jewish-American parents. When she was six months old, her family went to Europe: first Vienna, then to Paris. She thus learned several other languages before learning English. The family returned to America in 1880 and Gertrude Stein grew up in Oakland and San Francisco, California.
In 1888 Gertrude Stein's mother died after a long battle with cancer, and in 1891 her father died suddenly. Her oldest brother, Michael, became guardian of the younger siblings. In 1892 Gertrude Stein and her sister moved to Baltimore to live with relatives. Her inheritance was enough for her to live comfortably.
Gertrude Stein's Education
With little formal education, Gertrude Stein was admitted as a special student to the Harvard Annex in 1893 (it was renamed Vassar College the next year), while her brother Leo attended Harvard. She studied psychology with William James, and graduated magna cum laude in 1898.
Gertrude Stein studied medicine at Johns Hopkins for four years, leaving with no degree after having difficulty with her last year of courses. Her leaving may have been connected with a failed romance with May Bookstaver, about which Gertrude later wrote. Or it may have been that her brother Leo had already left for Europe.
Gertrude Stein, Expatriate
In 1903, Gertrude Stein moved to Paris to live with her brother, Leo Stein. They began to collect art, as Leo intended to be an art critic. Their home at 27, rue de Fleurus, became home to their Saturday salons. A circle of artists gathered around them, including such notables as Picasso, Matisse, and Gris, whom Leo and Gertrude Stein helped bring to public attention. Picasso even painted a portrait of Gertrude Stein.
In 1907, Gertrude Stein met Alice B. Toklas, another wealthy Jewish Californian, who became her secretary, amanuensis, and lifelong companion. Stein called the relationship a marriage, and love notes made public in the 1970s reveal more about their intimate lives than they discussed publicly during Stein's lifetime. Stein's pet names for Toklas included "Baby Precious" and "Mama Woojums," and Toklas' for Stein included "Mr. Cuddle-Wuddle" and "Baby Woojums."
By 1913, Gertrude Stein had become separated from her brother, Leo Stein, and in 1914 they divided the art that they'd collected together.
Gertrude Stein's First Writings
As Pablo Picasso was developing a new art approach in cubism, Gertrude Stein was developing a new approach to writing. She wrote The Making of Americans in 1906 to 1908, but it was not published until 1925. In 1909 Gertrude Stein published Three Lives, three stories including "Melanctha" of particular note. In 1915 she published Tender Button, which has been described as a "verbal collage."
Gertrude Stein's writing brought her further renown, and her home and salons were frequented by many writers as well as artists, including many American and English expatriates. She tutored Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway, among others, in their writing efforts.