Gertrude Stein, an American by birth, has been dubbed the mentor of the “Lost Generation” of writers who lived in Paris after the First World War. The Stein family moved to Europe when Gertrude was a young child, but returned to the states and established their home in California. After the death of her father, Gertrude moved to Baltimore to live with a wealthy aunt, and in 1893 entered Radcliffe College. It was during her college years that she became close friends with one of her professors, William James. Stein was convinced that she wanted to be a medical doctor and after graduation from Radcliffe set out to pursue her studies. She soon reevaluated her dream and decided instead to take some time to travel. This change of direction also brought about a change in career. It was during this time she wrote her first novel, Things As They Are. In 1904 Stein moved to Paris and remained there for 30 years.
During the war, Stein and her companion, Alice B. Toklas, fearful of air raids, left Paris for the safety of Spain. However, they returned in 1916 with a new resolve to volunteer as drivers for a new organization, American Fund for French Wounded. Stein convinced her relatives back home to contribute to purchase a truck so that they would be able to distribute supplies to hospitals and respond to emergencies. They continued their work throughout the war and beyond the Armistice, delivering supplies to shelled and burned-out French villages and towns. Stein writes of her First World War adventures in the book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.
Further Research and Activities: Gertrude Stein
- Research the work of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas during the First World War.
- Stein was famous for her salon at 27 Rue de Fleurus in Paris. Sherwood Anderson, Georges Braque, Ernest Hemingway, Pablo Picasso and Thornton Wilder were among her visitors. Report on these individuals and their work as writers and artists.
- Stein coined the term “Lost Generation.” Research what was meant by this term and how the people with whom she associated within the definition.
- Comment on why Gertrude Stein was thought to be so influential regarding her judgment on literature.
- Report on the political beliefs of Stein.
- At the turn of the century Stein’s writing was thought to be literature’s response to the Cubist art movement. Research this notion and provide examples from Stein’s writing to support it.