One of the most iconic female activists of the early 20th century is Gertrude Stein. In addition to being a notable author and activist, she is also famous for her unique personality and style. Born in 1874 in Allegheny Pennsylvania, Stein was the youngest of five children in a German Jewish family. Stein spent her early years traveling through Austria, France, Baltimore, and California where she was exposed to a variety of cultures. She was reportedly a very bright child who spent much of her time reading.
In 1893, Stein decided to enroll in Harvard Annex, the school that would eventually become Radcliffe College. This was a very influential time, where Stein studied psychology and first began writing. Stein got a reputation for being uncommonly intelligent, and even though higher education for women was frowned upon, professors recommended she go study at Johns Hopkins Medical School. Stein fell into a deep depression after a young woman did not reciprocate her love, so she decided to go to Europe where she hoped people would be more accepting.
In Europe, Stein finally found her calling and met Alice B Toklas, her lifelong partner. Stein began writing in earnest, and her first novel The Making of Americans debuted to much acclaim. In addition to writing, Stein also became famous in the Parisian arts and culture scene for her art collections and intellectual salons. She hosted many modernist greats, like Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Stein continued to live in Nazi-occupied France throughout World War II, where she was in danger as a person of Jewish descent. However, she continued to run her art salon and was protected by friends within the government. Stein was diagnosed with stomach cancer shortly after the war ended and passed away in 1946.
Stein remains influential both as a feminist icon and a modernist thinker. As an out and proud lesbian in a time when LGBTQ rights were nonexistent, people are inspired by her bravery. Famous quotes like “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose” highlight her unique writing style and way of thinking. In both her own work and the works of the artists she inspired, Stein encouraged stream of conscious thought and out of the box thinking.