Gertrude Stein was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. She was the last of seven children of Daniel and Amelia Keyser Stein. Shortly after she was born, the Stein family moved to Europe for four years, later settling in Oakland, California. She attended public school in California until the age of seventeen. By 1891, both parents had died; Gertrude, her brother Leo, and her sister Bertha, moved to Baltimore to stay with their eldest brother, Michael, and his family. Gertrude Stein entered Radcliffe College in the fall of 1893 graduating four years later. She decided upon a medical career and entered the John Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore, Maryland, in summer 1897. Gertrude Stein became bored with medical school, and, failing to receive a passing grade in a minor course at the end of her fourth year, she moved to Florence, Italy, to stay with her brother Leo for the summer. For two years, she traveled back and forth to Europe and in 1903 finally settled with Leo at 27, Rue de Fleurus, in Paris.
It was in Paris that Gertrude Stein became a writer. Although she had written technical papers during her college years, she made her first step as a writer with the completion of Q.E.D. (1903). During forty-three years in Paris, Stein produced and promoted her poems, plays, novels, and "word-portraits." Despite difficulty in having her work published, Stein managed to build a small audience. She wrote and published Q.E.D., The Good Anna, Melanctha, and The Gentle Lena during her first three years in Paris. The last three were later published under the collective title of Three Lives (1915). During this period, she posed for her famous portrait by Pablo Picasso. She purchased works by Picasso, Matisse, Robert Delaunay, and Juan Gris, and she became acquainted with writers Guillaume Apollinaire and Max Jacob. Between 1906 and 1910, Gertrude Stein worked on her epic, The Making of Americans, which was not published until 1925. In 1910, Alice B. Toklas, Stein's "wife" moved to 27, Rue de Fleurus to join Stein and her brother Leo. She played the roles of lover, cook, housekeeper, gardener, typist, and editor in Stein's life. In 1913, Leo and Gertrude Stein had a disagreement regarding Picasso's later works and decided to separate. Leo moved to a small town near Florence essentially ending their relationship.
In 1914, Stein and Toklas, stranded in England during the World War I for about eleven weeks, offered their services to the American Fund for French Wounded. Later, they returned to France to continue efforts to have Stein's work published in England as well as France. It was during this period Stein wrote many portraits of her friends; among them were those of Sherwood Anderson and Carl Van Vechten. In 1926, she published her lectures from Oxford and Cambridge in a volume entitled Composition as Explanation. The Life and Death of Juan Gris was published in 1927, shortly after his death as a tribute to his memory. That same year Virgil Thompson, an American composer, completed musical settings for Stein's Capital, Capitals and began work on Four Saints in Three Acts and Opera. In the late 1920s Stein met Georges Maratier at a tea given by a mutual friend, Bravig Imbs. Maratier, a businessman, owned an art gallery in Paris and was perhaps one of her closest friends during the 1930s. In 1929, Stein and Toklas rented a seventeenth-century villa in Bilignin where they spent their summers entertaining friends; previously their summers were spent at the nearby town of Belley. Maratier, who often visited Stein and Toklas at their homes in Paris and at Bilignin, frequently advised Stein on personal and business matters. Their relationship which lasted for eleven years often involved a mutual friend and publisher, Georges Hugnet. As Stein's publisher in the early 1930s publishing under the imprint "Edition de La Montagne," Georges Hugnet helped publish Morceaux Choisis de la Fabrication des Americans (1930) and Dix Portraits (1930) both in English and in French. From the late 1920s through the 1930s the correspondence among Georges Maratier, Georges Hugnet, and Gertrude Stein focused on these publications. In the fall of 1930, Stein's relationship with Georges Hugnet ended as a result of a quarrel concerning equal billing in Enfances. That same year Stein and Toklas initiated the "Plain Edition" publishing company. Several editions appeared under the "Plain Edition" imprint, such as Lucy Church Amiably (1930) and Before the Flowers of Friendship Faded Friendship Faded (1930). The latter is a limited edition of Stein's English work translated by Georges Hugnet before their dispute. For three years Stein and Toklas continued their publication efforts and managed to publish most of Stein's most hermetic works; unfortunately all of the volumes were unsuccessful.
In the summer of 1932, Gertrude Stein wrote The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). She realized a lifetime ambition when it was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1933. On October 17, 1934, with the help of Toklas and Maratier, she sailed for a six-month tour in the U.S. While in the U.S., Stein was relentlessly interviewed and photographed. She delivered numerous lectures at the Colony Club, Harvard University, University of Virginia, and many other colleges on the East Coast. Despite Stein's busy schedule, she managed to write a series of six weekly articles in the spring of 1935. While in the U.S., Stein met publisher Bennet Cerf of Random House. He helped her publishPortraits and Papers (1934), Lectures in America (1935), and her account of her U.S. tour, Everybody's Autobiography (1937). On May 4, 1935, she sailed from New York to Paris aboard the "Champlain."
On the eve of World War II, Stein published Picasso (1938), as homage to her friend. In that same year, Stein and Toklas relocated to 5, Rue Christine, not far from their old home. Stein was convinced that there would not be a full scale war. When France entered the war in September 1939, they remained in Unoccupied France, despite the obvious dangers. Her relationship with Bernard Fay during this period was especially important. As head of the Bibliotheque Nationale in France, he offered her some protection. In 1940, Paris, France, her tribute to France, was published. In 1943, Stein and Toklas moved from Bilignin to Culoz. They maintained a quiet life, often having to endure fuel and food shortages. In December 1944, Stein and Toklas returned to Paris to find that Stein's valuable art collection was still intact. In 1945, while visiting Brussels, Stein suffered intestinal trouble which later proved to be cancer. She lapsed into a coma after a cancer operation and died July 27, 1946, at the American Hospital in Neuilly. Gertrude Stein is buried in Paris in Père Lachaise Cemetery.