Gertrude Stein & Alice B Toklas … Centre for Ageing Better Image Library


Gertrude Stein and Alice B Toklas

Gertrude Stein (3 February 1874 – 27 July 1946) was an American novelist, poet, playwright and art collector. Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and raised in Oakland, California, Stein moved to Paris in 1903, and made France her home for the remainder of her life.

Gertrude Stein and the love of her life, Alice B Toklas (30 April 1877 – 7 March 1967), first met in Paris on 8 September 1907.

Stein and Toklas became extremely influential in the development of modern art and literature. Together they hosted a Paris salon – one of the most celebrated salons in Europe – that attracted well-known members of the avant-garde artistic and literary world. Among their numerous colleagues, friends and patrons were Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Thornton Wilder, Ernest Hemingway, Georges Braque, André Derain, Max Jacob, Guillaume Apollinaire, Henri Rousseau, Sherwood Anderson and Ezra Pound. “Everybody brought somebody,” Stein wrote, “and they came at any time … it was in this way that Saturday evenings began.”

Stein was an acclaimed modernist writer known for challenging conventional understandings of genre, narration and form. Toklas, a fierce advocate of Stein’s work, encouraged her to write The Autobiography of Alice B Toklas (1933), which brought the two women international recognition.

Shifting between biography, autobiography and memoir Stein was able to obscure the exact nature of her relationship with Toklas while telling the colourful story of the life they shared. Two well-known lesbian Jews, Stein and Toklas remained in France and survived both World Wars thanks to the protection afforded them by having made friends in high-places – at a price many have speculated may have included selling out French Jews in exchange for a guarantee of their own safety in the heart of fascism … an indelible dark stain on an otherwise striking personal history.

Stein is the author of one of the earliest coming out stories – QED – written in 1903 but suppressed by the author. It wasn’t published until after her death in 1950.

The more affirming essay “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” is one of the first homosexual revelation stories to be published based on lesbian partners Maud Hunt Squire and Ethel Mars. The work, like QED, is informed by Stein’s growing involvement with a homosexual community. The work contains the word “gay” over 100 times, perhaps the first published use of the word “gay” in reference to same-sex relationships and those who have them.

In the 1980s, a cabinet in the Yale University Beinecke Library, which had been locked for an indeterminate number of years, was opened and found to contain some 300 love letters written by Stein and Toklas. They were made public for the first time, revealing intimate details of their relationship. Stein’s endearment for Toklas was “Baby Precious”, in turn Stein was for Toklas, “Mr Cuddle-Wuddle”.

Stein died at the age of 72 from stomach cancer in 1946. Toklas, who penned the famous Alice B Toklas Cookbook (1954), spent the remainder of her life protecting and promoting Stein’s legacy until her own death in 1967. They are interred in Paris in the Père Lachaise cemetery where they share a grave and a headstone.

Centre for Ageing Better

The Centre for Ageing Better has updated their image library!

The new collection aims to improve depictions of older people with different life experiences, highlighting people living across diverse communities and from a range of socio-economic backgrounds.

The new photos illustrate the experiences of people who are often under-represented – those who live on low incomes, identify as LGBTQ+ or are aged 70 and above. The collection showcases later life across the country, from Brighton to Manchester and beyond.

You can download the photos and use them for free now!

Rachel, 63, talks about her experience of being photographed for the Age-positive image library, as well as the importance of positive representation for older trans people.

“I’m a 63 years young Anglo-Australian dual national Trans woman, or a woman with a gender history as I prefer to say. I’m also a Lesbian so I have two footholds in the LGBTQ+ community.

I’m multifaceted and have packed a lot into 63 years. I trained in the UK in the mid to late 70s as a registered Nurse specialising in Orthopaedic Theatres and practised overseas in the Middle East in the 1980s before immigrating to Perth in Western Australia, which became my home until 2017 when I came here after my divorce, and to look after my Mum. I’m proudly Australian and like many expatriate Aussies I still consider it home.

I currently work in Broadcast Radio as a Radio Presenter, writing and presenting my own Transgender and Allies show called The Rachel Oliver Show. I’m active in the Transgender community and volunteer in a trans healthcare support capacity for a major LGBTQ+ charity among other activities.

The experience of being in the Age-positive image library was awesome, as is any opportunity to represent my LGBTQ+ community in promotional photo work.

I had completed a filmed training video interview that morning, so I was dressed in business attire rather than the 1950s Pin-Up style make-up and dress, which I usually prefer to wear for TV or modelling, so was a little different than usual. But change is often beneficial, and it was great to try out something different. The casually posed images taken of me enjoying a coffee and cake captured my bubbly personality and humour perfectly.

I certainly don’t feel old and there’s plenty of activity around me. I’m never lost for something to occupy myself with and being mature certainly doesn’t mean slowing down or inactivity.

I’m busier now with radio and other projects and interests than I was in my 30s. It’s important to change societal attitudes towards ageing by showing how positive and life affirming ageing can be and the contributions we can make to society as elders and critical thinkers.

Rachel on her laptop in a café

In regard to the LGBTQ+ community and in particular trans people, that’s an added complexity to ageing and one which carries its own issues. We’re no different to anyone else and are just ordinary people with extraordinary life stories which have brought us to this place, often later in life, as in my story where I came out at 50.

That was because societal restrictions towards LGBTQ+ people in the last century and especially trans people which have only really started to lift in the last couple of decades with the Gender Recognition Act. Societal restrictions against trans people are still continuing now, as our trans rights continue to be under attack. Consequently, it’s vital to see positive depictions of us in photos and the media to inspire and consolidate our position in society.

The transgender community is a small one, at less than 262,000 in the UK, based on the last census figures. But that’s actually a population which in fact is bigger than many small countries. And yet there’s a distinct lack of positive imagery of people in the trans community and especially of mature over 50 trans people going about our daily business and contributing to society as members of the wider community.

I don’t feel old until my arthritic joints rudely remind me that I can’t do certain physical things I could do with ease in my 20s. My mind hasn’t aged, except to gain more maturity, become awakened to injustice and discriminatory attitudes, involve itself in applying critical thinking and to absorb information from lived experience.”

Patrick is 73 and a retired teacher. Here he talks about his experience of being photographed for the Age-positive image library.

“Doing the photo shoot for the image library was a very enjoyable experience. It was made even more special by having the photos taken with my long-standing friend David: firstly, in our line dancing outfits, and then in everyday gear, chatting, having afternoon tea and using a computer.

It’s important that older people are seen to be healthy, active, and still useful members of society. It’s particularly important that members of the LGBTQ+ community are seen in this way, and not just a minority group with no significant role to play in society, especially when we’re older.

I would like to see more of a variety of interests and activities represented in the image library photos. For example, in addition to being a line dancer, I’m in a walking group, play badminton, as well as a great traveller all over the world.

Getting older has its negatives, but a lot of positives too. It is a natural part of the life cycle, and it doesn’t worry me. I’m 73, a big number, but still young in my attitude to life. I am lucky enough to own my own place, am comfortable financially, and enjoy life. The one thing I personally don’t want to happen in future years is to end up in a care home, where I might have to ‘go back in the closet’. I value my independence and will do my best to ensure that doesn’t happen.

While the aches and pains occur more frequently, and last longer, I try to keep myself fit and healthy and involved in many social groups, which is so important.”

One thought on “Gertrude Stein & Alice B Toklas … Centre for Ageing Better Image Library

  1. Thank you for such an interesting article about Stein and Toklas. I went to see their grave whilst in Paris many years ago and was amused to see a stone double bed overlying the grave!


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