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A compendium of queer people in the 19th and 20th centuries // Drawn and researched by Michele Rosenthal

Gertrude  Stein

Gertrude Stein 1874to –1946

American modernist writer, art collector, mentor, and Parisian salon host. She was born to an upper-middle class Jewish family in Pittsburgh, and was taught an appreciation for art at a young age. She attended Radcliffe College (the women’s affiliate to Harvard), then medical school at John Hopkins, where she discovered that she wasn’t very interested in medicine, but she was interested in other women. She became involved in an unhappy love triangle with two female classmates, and later wrote about her experiences in the coming out story Q.E.D., which was only published posthumously. When her brother Leo moved to Paris in 1903 to pursue an art career, Stein joined him. They lived together for the next decade until their eventual falling out, and shared a passion for art collecting. They became known for their visionary collection of modern painters such as Cézanne, Picasso, Renoir, and Matisse. Those same artists began to visit their home and bring their friends, and Stein soon found herself hosting a weekly salon where artists and writers like Picasso and Hemingway would gather to discuss art and seek her advise. In 1907, she met her life partner Alice B. Toklas, and three years later Toklas moved in with her. Stein identified with masculinity, and Toklas took on the role of her wife, entertaining the wives of the artists who visited. In 1933, Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written from her partner’s point of view, which became her best selling novel. She is also known for her 1914 poetry book Tender Buttons, and the enigmatic quotes “a rose is a rose is a rose,” and “there is no there there.” Her writing has often been compared to the abstracted cubist paintings she collected. She and Toklas remained in France during World War II despite both being Jewish, controversially using their reputation and connections to avoid the persecution that others suffered. They remained a well-known couple until Stein’s death, along with their beloved poodle named Basket.

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