Alice Babette Toklas moves in permanently with Gertrude Stein.

September 9, 1910

On this day, Alice B. Toklas moved in with the avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein, her lover and life partner.

The two could not have come from more different households.  Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania on February 3, 1874, the youngest of five children; Toklas was born in San Francisco on April 30, 1877, the first child and only daughter of a family of merchants.  Stein was raised in a non-observant Jewish household; the men of Toklas’ family served on the boards of synagogues.  Stein graduated from the Harvard Annex (the precursor to Radcliffe College), where she studied psychology with William James, and went on to Johns Hopkins Medical School for a year; Toklas served as a housekeeper to the male members of her family for ten years after her mother’s death.

But both longed to escape.  Neither felt they could fulfill the roles of wife or mother that were prescribed by society.  Both had unrequited feelings for other women that exacerbated their sense of isolation from others.  Stein described the tumultuous emotions she fell into as her “red deeps.”

Stein was the first to break away, joining her brother Leo first in London in 1902, then Paris in 1903, residing in a flat at 27 rue de Fleurus in the Montparnasse district.  Joining a community of artists, writers, and intellectuals seeking to redefine the arts, Stein tentatively began to develop her own distinctive style.  Though Leo had no admiration for her writing, she found an enthusiastic critic when Toklas arrived on the scene in 1907.  Toklas later claimed that a bell rang for her each time she encountered a genius, and she heard distinct chiming when she met Gertrude Stein.  Toklas moved into the flat in 1910, Leo moved out, and a legendary partnership was born.

The two women turned their Parisian home into an important artistic and literary salon for almost thirty years, where they collected art and entertained Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, and many others.  Stein’s literary experiments with language, perspective, and time flourished in her novels, poetry, and plays, including Tender Buttons (1914), Four Saints in Three Acts (1929), and Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1938).  Toklas kept the household running smoothly, typed all of Stein’s work, helped to publicize and publish her writing, and served as gatekeeper to weed out friend from foe.

When Stein decided to write her memoirs in 1933, she wrote about herself through the voice of her closest companion, titling the book The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.  It was a sensation, enabling Stein to return to America for a triumphant literary tour full of reporters, photographers, and throngs of supporters in her audience.

The two survived World War II in France, but Stein died of stomach cancer on July 27, 1946.  Toklas only began to write after Stein’s death, producing The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook in 1954 and What Is Remembered in 1963.  She died on March 7, 1967.  The two women are buried side by side in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Sources: Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia; “September 9,” History.com.

2 Comments

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It is great to acknowledge Alice and Gertrude but the description of their relationship as “ housemates” renders invisible the crucial fact that they were life partners and lesbians. Our past history forced us into the closet. Please don’t make invisible these important role models for lesbian Jews. Similarly saying “they could not have been more different” is to ignore the crucial similarity of being Jewish lesbians interested in art and creativity, both clearly very smart and neither conforming to stereotypical gender roles. We are all raised with subtle lesbophobia. Please help reduce this by thinking about what I have said and consider correcting the article.

In reply to by Dawn Kagan

Hi, Dawn. Thank you so much for bringing this to our attention. We have edited the article to make more explicit the fact that Alice Toklas and Gertrude Stein were lovers and life partners. Please let me know if you have any questions. Best, Abby Belyea (JWA Executive & Development Assisant)

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in the Atelier at 27 Rue de Fleurus. Photograph by Man Ray in 1923. American-born writer Gertrude Stein (right) lived in this Paris residence for 33 years, which became a salon for the artists and writers of the era.
Institution: Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Alice Babette Toklas moves in permanently with Gertrude Stein.." (Viewed on October 26, 2020) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/sep/09/1910/alice-babette-toklas-moves-in-permanently-with-gertrude-stein>.

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