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Portrait of Gertrude Stein, n.d.(opens in a new tab)
Portrait of Gertrude Stein, n.d. Gilbert A. Harrison Collection of Material by and Relating to Gertrude Stein, 1922-1984; UCLA Library Special Collections.

February 3 marked the 150th anniversary of the birth of Gertrude Stein, the influential 20th-century writer, art collector and philanthropist. Stein, who was a proponent of controversial modernist and avant-garde styles that have influenced modern aesthetics, is often remembered as an eccentric cultural figure and patron of the arts who helped bring renowned artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to prominence.

Born in 1874 in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Stein was primarily raised in Oakland, California. She attended Radcliffe College from 1893-1897 and later Johns Hopkins Medical School before moving overseas with her brother in 1902. Stein settled in Paris, where she operated out of her Paris salon with her life partner and creative collaborator Alice B. Toklas. Some of her most recognized works include Three Lives (1909), Tender Buttons (1914) and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933). She died on July 27, 1946, at the age of 72.

Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, 1928(opens in a new tab)
Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, 1928. Gilbert A. Harrison Collection of Material by and Relating to Gertrude Stein, 1922-1984; UCLA Library Special Collections.

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Letter from Gertrude Stein to(opens in a new tab)
Letter from Gertrude Stein to "My dear Harrison," 1939, Collection: Harrison (Gilbert A.) collection of material by and relating to Gertrude Stein

Throughout her life, Stein maintained a vibrant social network of artists, writers and thinkers from around the world. Eclectic groups of some of the brightest and most interesting individuals of the era gathered to exchange ideas at soirées she hosted at her Paris apartment at 27 Rue de Fleurus.

One of her many relationships was with Gilbert A. Harrison, former editor-in-chief of The New Republic magazine, whom she met in 1933 when he attended a lecture she gave in Pasadena. Harrison, an undergraduate student at UCLA at the time, was so inspired by Stein’s talk that he followed her back to her hotel where they conversed until dawn. They reconnected in 1937 when Harrison visited Stein and Toklas in France. Although her relationship with Harrison had only just been re-established, at this meeting Stein shared a draft of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, one of her most seminal works. Their friendship and correspondence continued until Stein’s death in 1946. After Stein’s death, Harrison continued his amicable relationship and correspondence with Toklas, until her death in 1967.

Harrison diligently kept a record of his correspondence with Stein and Toklas and others, as well as collected books by and about Stein, original works of art, manuscripts, documents concerning the Stein estate, articles by and about Stein,theater programs and exhibition catalogs, and tape recordings, film and photographs. Harrison donated his collection to UCLA Library Special Collections in 1973, where it is available for researchers.

More information about the collection can be found at the Online Archive of California.

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