About Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein, the youngest of a family of five children, was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (merged with Pittsburgh in 1907) to well-educated German-Jewish parents, Daniel and Amelia Stein, Her father was a railroad executive whose investments in streetcar lines and real estate made the family wealthy. When Gertrude was three years old, the Steins relocated for business reasons to Vienna and then Paris. They returned to America in 1878, settling in Oakland, California, where Stein attended First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland's Sabbath school.
Her mother died in 1888, and her father, in 1891. Michael, her eldest brother, took over the family business holdings. He arranged for Gertrude, and another sister Bertha, to live with their mother's family in Baltimore after the deaths of their parents. (Mellow, 1974, pp. 25–28). In 1892 she lived with her uncle David Bachrach. It was in Baltimore that Gertrude met Claribel Cone and Etta Cone who held Saturday evening salons which Gertrude would later emulate in Paris, who shared an appreciation for art and conversation about it, and who modeled a domestic division of labor that Gertrude was later to replicate in her relationship with Alice B. Toklas. (Ibid. pp. 41–42).
Stein attended Radcliffe College from 1893 to 1897, and was a student of psychologist William James. With James's supervision, Stein and another student named Leon Mendez Solomons performed experiments on Normal Motor Automatism, a phenomenon hypothesized to occur in people when their attention is divided between two simultaneous intelligent activities, like writing and speaking. These experiments yielded examples of writing that appeared to represent "stream of consciousness," a psychological theory often attributed to James, which became the term used to describe the style of modernist authors like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. In 1934, behavioral psychologist, B.F. Skinner in fact interpreted Stein's notoriously difficult poem, Tender Buttons, as an example of the "normal motor automatism" Stein had written about for the experiment at Radcliffe. According to a letter Stein wrote during the 1930s, however, she had never really accepted the theory of automatic writing, explaining: "there can be automatic movements, but not automatic writing. Writing for the normal person is too complicated an activity to be indulged in automatically." At Radcliffe, she began a lifelong friendship with Mabel Foote Weeks, whose correspondence traces much of the progression of Gertrude's life. In 1897, Gertrude spent the summer in Woods Hole, Massachusetts studying embryology at the Marine Biological Laboratory, succeeded by two years at Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1901, she left Johns Hopkins without obtaining a degree.From 1903 to 1914 Gertrude lived in Paris with her brother Leo Stein, an art critic. It was during this period that she became well-known.