North Side: Gertrude Stein
BORN: 3 February 1874.(3)
DIED: 27 July 1946.(4)
BURIED: Pere Lachaise Cemetery, France.(5)
7th June 1935
My dear Mr. Jansen,
Miss Gertrude Stein has written the following para-
graph in answer to your request of the twenty-fifth
of May to contribute a word or two [sic] the symposium
you are gathering for publication in a newspaper on
"What the World Thins [sic] of Pittsburgh";
I only saw it from the air so what can I
say except that I was born in Alleghany [sic].
I am very sincerely yours,
A. B. Toklas
- "In the United States there is more space where nobody is than
where anybody is.
This is what makes America what it is." (6)
- Gertrude Stein Forgotten or Unknown in North Side Area
Where She Was Born.
A dozen members of Pittsburgh's oldest aristocracy have cemented a
lurking notion that Gertrude Stein, world's foremost female exponent of
"What's It All About" literature, is the daughter Pittsburgh forgot.
Maybe you, too, are unacquainted with the lyricist of the latest American
opera, dubbed "Four Saints in Three Acts," which was a bust when the
Friends and Enemies of Modern Music sponsored it at the Hartford
Athenium, but which is now rolling 'em in the aisles at Broadway's
"Empire" and threatens to come to Pittsburgh before long.
She was born at 71 Beech Avenue, North Side, an even 60
years ago. Little
was it suspected at that remote date, that Pittsburgh's own Gertrude
would some day slay the world with sentences like "And after that what
changes what changes after that, and after that what changes and what
changes after that..."
But She 'Slayed the World.'
But slay the world she did, and rose to such fame that her Paris house
has for years been the rendezvous of the art world's top-rung giants. An
inmate of the same literary reformatory with James Joyce of "Ulysses"
fame and T. S. Eliot, Miss Stein turned out reams of work before she
finally came out, last year, with a book somebody could understand.
It was "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas," in which Miss Stein stood
in her secretary Alice's boots, so to speak, and wrote about herself. But
all her work has been read around the world, and while some high critics
have acclaimed it the acme of futuristic greatness, others have complained
they didn't know what she was talking about and neither did Gertrude.
The old house where she lived has since been torn down and the family who
now inhabit the site, yesterday were unaware that the great Gertrude
Stein had once lived there. In fact they didn't even know who the great
But Gertrude is very well known. In fact she and Edward Stein and Mr.
Einstein were once linked together in the same poem, no
small honor to each. Here it is:
I don't like the family Stein,
Family Here 12 Years.
There is Gert, there is Ed, there is Ein:
Gert's poems are bunk.
Ed's statues are punk.
And nobody understands Ein.
Despite the fact that Gertrude's father Daniel and her Uncle Solomon
lived 12 years in Pittsburgh, mostly in the "bon-ton" section around
Western Avenue, the bluebloods consulted upon the matter mostly failed to
remember them, and certainly didn't know that Gertrude, the famed writer
had been born no farther from their back yards than you can throw an
Said Mrs. John Penney, whose family has lived in the old colonial house
at 1116 Western Avenue, for an even century: "Gertrude Stein? Oh yes. I
accidentally tuned in when they were broadcasting her opera. It was the
most terrible drivel. No, I certainly didn't know she was born in this
vicinity. I don't remember any such name."
Mrs. Penney is not alone in her opinion of Miss Stein's work. William
Lyon Phelps of Yale, is on the same side of the fence, and many
Down through the list of the old aristocrats, the answer was always the
same: "No, I didn't know anybody named Stein."
Mrs. Enoch Rauh, Mrs. Minnie Affelder, Ella Wetheimer, all of whose
families lived in the Steins' neighborhood when Western Avenue was the
most high-hat street in town, said they knew nothing of the family
Recalled by Mrs. Dupuy.
One person only recalled them. That was Mrs. Herbert Dupuy of Morewood
"I remember the Steins," she said. "Two brothers. They built two houses
on Western Avenue."
The houses were at 181 and 183, by the old system of numbers. Mrs. Dupuy
also remembered that the brothers, who together conducted a clothing
business at Fourth Avenue and Wood Street, quarreled over some difference
and went different ways. "There were two little Stein girls in the
family," Mrs. Dupuy remembered further. "One of them might have been
It is true that the Stein brothers split up, after being business
partners and sharing the same houses for years, and left Pittsburgh in
1874, the same year Gertrude was born. Daniel took his family to Vienna,
then Paris, and then back to Oakland, Cal. Gertrude was about six months
old when she left Pittsburgh, and there is no evidence that she ever came
back. She has been living at 27 rue de Fleurus, Paris, for many years.
When little Gertrude and her family left Pittsburgh, they were, it
appears, promptly forgotten. Gertrude remembers Pittsburgh, however, to
the extent of mentioning it three or four times in "The Autobiography of
Alice B. Toklas."
Queer Climb to Fame.
Miss Stein's climb to fame has been a queer one. Sticking through thick
and thin to the text that conventions are hampering, she has risen to
fame and fortune on the wings of such sentences as: "All who will live to
peal nuts and even not mean to leave any one or rather in the autumn
seeing nuts lie will stoop and get them or else not may be said to be
resembling to George Washington in respect to their birthday being in the
month of February."
As Gertrude, herself, has coyly said: "My sentences do get under their
Her opera, "Four Saints in Three Acts," was done in collaboration with
Virgil Thomson, who did the music.
It is replete with such lissome verses as the following:
"Pigeons on the grass, alas; pigeons on the grass, alas;
"Short longer grass short longer short longer shorter yellow grass.
Pigeons large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass alas pigeons
on the grass. If they were not pigeons what were they?" The answer is not
known. The opera has an all-Negro cast. Maybe she was thinking of the
squawking birdies around the old North Side jailhouse. But then again
- Search for photographs of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas in
the Carl Van Vechten Photographs
Collection at the Library of Congress.