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Stein, Gertrude (1874-1946)  
 
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In addition to becoming--with Alice B. Toklas--half of an iconic lesbian couple, Gertrude Stein was an important innovator and transformer of the English language.

Stein, who later delighted in teasing officials with the difficult spelling of her birthplace, was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 1874, the youngest child of a prosperous family of German-Jewish descent. During her childhood, Stein's family resided temporarily in Europe and later moved to Oakland, California, where she was educated both privately and in public school.

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The deaths during her adolescence of her overbearing father and her self-effacing mother left Stein in the care of her older brother Michael, who became the benevolent patriarch of the family.

The Harvard Years

In 1893, Stein accompanied her brother Leo, with whom she was very close, to Harvard. There she studied psychology at Harvard Annex (Radcliffe College) under William James, the author of Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) and the older brother of Henry James. Stein excelled under James's enthusiastic mentoring, and she published two articles in Harvard Psychological Review that represented the beginning of her lifelong interest in character typology.

She later remarked in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas that her second article, "Cultivated Motor Automatism: A Study of Character in Its Relation to Attention" (1896), represented the beginning of the "method of writing to be afterwards developed in Three Lives and The Making of Americans [sic]."

In this experiment, subjects made marks on paper while overhearing conversation or daydreaming. Based on the capacities of these subjects to concentrate under these conditions, Stein derived a theory of the "bottom nature" or "bottom rhythm" of her subjects. She classified character according to two basic types: Type I was "high-strung, imaginative, and nervous" whereas Type II was "blond, pale, and phlegmatic."

The Johns Hopkins Years

On the advice of William James, who told her that knowledge of medicine was necessary to the study of psychology, Stein enrolled in Johns Hopkins Medical School, which had recently begun to admit women students.

For the first two years, Stein continued her laboratory work and therefore enjoyed medical school, but during her final years her grades suffered. In an early indication of her rebellion against maternal roles and medical views of the female body, Stein particularly disliked obstetrics, although her experience of delivering babies in the African-American community in Baltimore served as the basis for "Melanctha," a story in her first published work, Three Lives.

The Growing Awareness of Her Lesbianism

Most significant, however, her increasing difficulties in medical school paralleled her growing awareness of her lesbianism. Her sexuality placed her in conflict not only with the bourgeois morality she espoused but also with the views of feminist theorists such as Charlotte Perkins Gilman, who argued in Women and Economics (1898) that the unfettered expression of sexuality would jeopardize women's capacity to succeed in the professions and gain economic independence from men.

While in Baltimore, Stein became involved in a group of college women led by Mabel Haynes and Grace Lounsbury, who were, unlike Stein, experts at disguising the reality of lesbian passion behind the respectable cover of female romantic friendship.

Stein had little idea of these social dynamics when Mabel Haynes suddenly dropped her "friendship" with Lounsbury and began an affair with another student, May Bookstaver. In the meantime, Stein herself, despite her professed horror of "passion in its many disguised forms," fell precipitously in love with Bookstaver.

Confronted by an experienced and formidable rival, as well as by her own moral crises and sexual naïveté, Stein found herself excluded from the Bookstaver-Haynes romance. Indeed, May stayed temporarily with Mabel, and both women subsequently ended their college affair and, obedient to societal and familial dictates, married men.

Early Unpublished Work: Q. E. D.

During travels to New York, London, and Paris after leaving Johns Hopkins, Stein transmuted the drama of this relationship into her first novel, Q. E. D. (1903), which stands for quod erat demonstrandum ("what is to be proved") and which was first posthumously published as Things As They Are (1950).

Like her other early unpublished work Fernhurst (1904), which concerns the conflicted three-way relationship between the lesbian dean of Bryn Mawr, Miss Carey Thomas, and two professors, Mary Gwinn and Alfred Hodder, Q. E. D. is uncharacteristic of Stein's later work because it employs conventional, linear narration and treats the subject of lesbianism in literal, unencoded language.

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Gertrude Stein in 1934.
  
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