GERTRUDE STEIN was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, the youngest of five surviving children of Daniel and Amelia Stein.She spent her childhood in Vienna, Paris, and Oakland, California, and later attended Radcliffe, where she studied under philosopher and psychologist William James.
Stein was especially interested in psychology and her first published work, "Normal Motor Automatism," cowritten with Leon Solomons , was published in the Psychological Review in 1896. She studied medicine at Johns Hopkins University from 1897 to 1901 but left without receiving a degree. In 1903 she moved to Paris with her brother Leo and lived there for the rest of her life. She returned to America only once.
In 1904, Stein and her brother began collecting paintings, including early works of Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso, and Braque, and started what became their famous Saturday evening gatherings frequented by members of the expatriate and French avant-garde. In 1907 Stein met Alice B. Toklas, who became her lifelong lover and assistant; they lived together until Stein's death.
Influenced by the aesthetic philosophies and styles of the artists she collected and by Flaubert's Trois contes, Stein wrote Three Lives ( 1909). Likewise, the cubism of Picasso—for whom Stein sat for a portrait—informs her astonishing prose-poem, Tender Buttons ( 1914). Over the next 40 years she wrote almost constantly, producing nearly 500 works, including portraits, plays, poems, and scores of books, only a few of which were published in her lifetime. While some critics hailed her stream-of-consciousness techniques as liberating and illuminating, others thought her work self-indulgent, deliberately obscure, and intellectually dishonest.
Among her best-known works are Tender Buttons, The Making of Americans ( 1925), and the popular The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas ( 1932); the opera Four Saints in Three Acts (cowritten with composer Virgil Thomson) premiered in the United States in 1934. By the time Stein recorded her experiences in France during World War II in Wars I Have Seen ( 1945), her reputation in America was firmly established. She died on July 27, 1946.
Stein was undoubtedly one of the most influential writers of her time and was central to a significant segment of the European artistic community; Sherwood Anderson and Ernest Hemingway are among