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Gertrude Stein was born near Pittsburgh, PA to affluent Jewish parents, Daniel and Amelia Stein on 3rd February 1874. She was the youngest of five and her family life was cultured with German as well as English spoken at home.
At age 3, Gertrude and her family went to Europe for a year's trip to Vienna and Paris with governesses and tutors ensuring the children's education with an expansive European sensibility. On their return to the US in 1878, the family settled in Oakland, California where her education continued. Tragically her mother died in 1888 and her father 3 years later in 1891.
Gertrude attended Harvard and was a student of imminent psychologist William James who declared her his best ever female student and with his supervision started experimenting on people with divided activities, specifically her subjects would talk and write. The writing produced was very much like a stream of consciousness, often attributed to William James and many great novelists such as Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. James encouraged her to attend medical school where although she left prematurely, bored and depressed, she discovered Lesbianism, developed her non conformity and ideas on the male dominated world she lived in, giving a controversial speech "The Value of College Education for Women."
She relocated to Paris with her brother Leo and with his influence they became great collectors of art purchasing works by Mattisse, Picasso, Cezanne and Toulouse-Lautrec. Despite their acrimonious split she continued to display her half of the collection at her Paris home now shared with her lover Alice. Their regular visitors included the creative creme de la creme including Picasso, F Scott Fitzgerald, Thornton Wilder and Ernest Hemingway (to whom she was godmother to his first born).
Although she had started writing previously she now did so regularly across disciplines and styles producing novels, plays, stories, libretti and poems. In 1932 she achieved her first bestseller with her own autobiographical work despite the title The Autobiography of B Toklas and this prompted a return to the US.
She arrived with Alice to great public interest making front page news and Times Square lights declaring Gertie was home. They did an extensive lecture tour across the country and were celebrated by all including an invitation to tea by Eleanor Roosevelt and dinner by Charlie Chaplin.
She secured a lucrative publishing deal and they returned to Paris where she continued with her salon, inspiring established artists and writers and nurturing new talent as well as writing and publishing in different disciplines but undoubtedly with her distinctive and innovative modernist style.
Her loyalty to Petain's Vichy France throughout the war and her staying in Paris despite Hitler's treatment of Jews and the pleas of friends and the US Embassy dumbfounded both her supporters and critics alike. Her life and works prompted great controversy which continues to this day as she is not a figure easily ignored.
Gertrude Stein died on 27th July, 1946 and is buried in Paris' most famous cemetery - Pere Lachaise.