Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania, on February 3, 1874, to wealthy German-Jewish immigrants. At the age of three, her family moved first to Vienna and then to Paris. They returned to America in 1878 and settled in Oakland, California. Her mother, Amelia, died of cancer in 1888 and her father, Daniel, died 1891.
Stein attended Radcliffe College from 1893 to 1897, where she specialized in Psychology under noted psychologist William James. After leaving Radcliffe, she enrolled at the Johns Hopkins University, where she studied medicine for four years, leaving in 1901. Stein did not receive a formal degree from either institution.
In 1903, Stein moved to Paris with Alice B. Toklas, a younger friend from San Francisco who would remain her partner and secretary throughout her life. The couple did not return to the United States for over thirty years.