Jan 312016
Alice (left) with Gertrude and poodle

Alice (left) with Gertrude and Basket the poodle.

 GERTRUDE STEIN coined “A Rose is a Rose is a Rose.”

Gertrude Stein is a name that would probably be familiar with older lesbians. It is now 2016 and there is a younger generation that has witnessed lesbians on television, utube and on music videos. Many lesbians in sports have come out and a younger generation is more accepting (except in homophobic countries).  Alice B. Toklas was her soul mate and lover.


As lesbians, I think that it is worthwhile to peek every now and again into our rich past, since more and more families and foundations are willing to release love letters and details of famous women (many who had female lovers).

Brief Background 



Gertrude Stein (February 3, 1874 – July 27, 1946) was an American writer of novels, poetry and plays.  Gertrude never kept her lesbian relationship with Alice B. Toklas a secret. She placed emphasis on her writing talents and upon entertaining intellectual male and females.   Gertrude and Alice were American expats who left the USA and lived the rest of their lives in France.

An Old-Fashioned Stereotypical Relationship?

Many Young lesbians today are not into labels as to who is “butch” and who is “femme” in a relationship. Many consider themselves to be ‘gender fluid’ – meaning that they can decide who to love. (Some people claim it’s bi-sexual).

Gertrude and Alice had a defined ‘butch-femme’ relationship. At their home in Paris, Gertrude greeted the male and female guests – intellects, writers and painters.   Gertrude took the men to a parlour to talk, while Alice took care of the women, many of whom were interested in the recipes that Alice prepared. She was a noted French chef and had published her recipes.   Alice was an intellectual, but she was willing to stand in the shadows behind Gertrude’s larger-than-life personality. Their home was filled with mostly modernistic art. They were a devoted couple and Gertrude’s book, “The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas, written in the voice of Alice, vaulted Gertrude into the mainstream world of literature. The date was 1933.

Gertrude’s Early Life

She was born in 1874 in Pennsylvania, USA and moved with her upper class Jewish family to California. Her father was a wealthy business man with real estate holdings and investments in public transportation. Her mother died in 1888 and her father in 1891 and Gertrude and her sister, Bertha, moved to Baltimore.

In 1893, she attended Radcliffe College, then an annex of Harvard University and studied as a student under the famous psychologist William James. He encouraged Gertrude to enrol in medical school, but a bored Gertrude dropped out two years later, having hated the atmosphere of the male-dominated atmosphere. She did, however, meet lesbian Mabel Foote Weeks who became a life-long friend.

The Escape to Paris

Many American lesbians of financial means escaped to Paris where they could live with their lovers and attend literary salons filled with open-minded men, but largely a haven for lesbian expression. To stay in America always seem to involve the intrusion of a male family member who thought it was his job to look after female relatives.

Around 1900, at age 26, Gertrude became infatuated with Mary Bookstaver. Mary, however, was in a female relationship with a medical student, Mabel Haynes. Stein later referred to this as her ‘erotic awakening.’ Two years later, Gertrude’s brother, Leo, left for London and Gertrude followed. The next year, they relocated to Paris where Leo hoped to pursue an art career.

They shared living quarters on the Left Bank of the Seine from 1903 to 1914. They carefully bought and sold paintings and eventually obtained art by Gauguin, Cézanne and Renoir.

The Stein Salon on 27 rue de Fleurus

Gertrude stipulated that Saturday evenings would be the time to receive guests. Their names are legend – Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald – It seems that men were in the majority, although females such as Elizabeth de Gramont,Claribel Cone and Mildred Aldrich were guests.

Gertrude’s Form of Writing

Gertrude set out to break the mold of writing by making it similar to how people think in general.People think with the intrusion of various thoughts, some being disconnected.

Here is an example of Gertrude’s writing (I’m not a fan!)

Out of kindness comes redness and out of rudeness comes rapid same question, out of an eye comes research, out of selection comes painful cattle.

Alice B. Toklas



Gertrude was 33 years of age in 1907 when on September 8th, she met her future life partner, Alice. It was Alice’s first day in Paris and they met at the apartment of Gertrude’s brother, Michael. Alice was instantly smitten and wrote:

She was a golden brown presence, burned by the Tuscan sun and with a golden glint in her warm brown hair. She was dressed in a warm brown corduroy suit. She wore a large round coral brooch and when she talked, very little, or laughed, a good deal, I thought her voice came from this brooch. It was unlike anyone else’s voice—deep, full, velvety, like a great contralto’s, like two voices.

Gertrude was also smitten with Alice. She introduced her to Pablo Picasso and the following year they summered in Italy. It was a discreet holiday with Alice staying in a separate villa with an American female companion and a maid. Three years later, Alice moved in with Gertrude and her brother, Leo.

A Place of Our Own.

Gertrude, Alice and Leo shared private living quarters for four years until 1914, when the women moved to 27 rue de Fleurus which would be known as the Stein Salon. World War I had broken out in 1914 and Gertrude and Alice joined the war effort. They acquired a Ford automobile that Gertrude drove. The couple drove supplies to French hospitals. They named the car “Auntie’ after Gertrude’s aunt, Pauline, ‘who always behaved admirably in emergencies and behaved fairly well most times if she was flattered.'”

 1930s – and World War II

The 1930s saw the publication and success of “The Autobiography of Alice B.Toklas and the touring of America. When World War II broke out in 1939, Gertrude and Stein left Paris and lived in a home that they had rented in the French countryside. Both Gertrude and Alice were Jewish but it seems they had powerful friends that kept the Nazis at bay.

The Death of Gertrude

On July 27, 1946 Gertrude died during an operation for stomach cancer

In “What Is Remembered,” Toklas wrote of the “troubled, confused and very uncertain” afternoon of the surgery. “I sat next to her and she said to me early in the afternoon, What is the answer? I was silent. In that case, she said, what is the question?” However, in a letter to Van Vechten ten years earlier, Toklas had written:

‘About Baby’s last words. She said upon waking from a sleep–What is the question. And I didn’t answer thinking she was not completely awakened. Then she said again–What is the question and before I could speak she went on–If there is no question then there is no answer.”

Stein and Her Thoughts on Lesbian Relationships: 

Gertrude, while being an intellectual genius, was troubled by gender and sex. She had entered into earlier lesbian relationships but detested “passion in its many disguised forms.’ So what was her relationship with Alice. Obviously, they adored one another and had loving pet names


In this work, Gertrude cleverly presents layer upon layer of public and private meanings to things lesbian. She puns on sexual words such as “box” and “cow” and it is apparent that breasts are “tender buttons.”

imagesBurial Place of Gertrude and Alice

Gertrude was buried in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris in 1946, Alice was to join her there many years later.   As in life, so in death, Alice who always let Gertrude be in the spotlight, let her remain there in death.  Alice’s  name is on the back of Gertrude’s tombstone.

paula: In December 2015, I tried to find Gertrude and Alice’s tomb, but without a map of the graves, I did not succeed. So I spoke to them from a part of the cemetery.   I wished them continued love on the “other side.”   paula.




 Leave a Reply