Alice B. Toklas

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Alice B. Toklas
Alice B. Toklas, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949
Alice B. Toklas, photographed by Carl Van Vechten, 1949
Born Alice Babette Toklas
(1877-04-30)April 30, 1877
San Francisco, California
Died March 7, 1967(1967-03-07) (aged 89)
Paris, France
Nationality American
Occupation Avant-garde
Partner(s) Gertrude Stein (1907-1946)

Alice B. Toklas (April 30, 1877 – March 7, 1967) was an American-born member of the Parisian avant-garde of the early 20th century.

Early life, relationship with Gertrude Stein[edit]

She was born Alice Babette Toklas in San Francisco, California, into a middle-class Jewish family (her father had been a Polish army officer[1]) and attended schools in both San Francisco and Seattle. For a short time she also studied music at the University of Washington. She met Gertrude Stein in Paris on September 8, 1907, the day she arrived. Together they hosted a salon that attracted expatriate American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bowles, Thornton Wilder, and Sherwood Anderson, and avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Matisse, and Braque.

Acting as Stein's confidante, lover, cook, secretary, muse, editor, critic, and general organizer, Toklas remained a background figure, chiefly living in the shadow of Stein, until Stein published her memoirs in 1933 under the teasing title The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. It became Stein's bestselling book.

"She was a little stooped, somewhat retiring and self-effacing. She doesn't sit in a chair, she hides in it; she doesn't look at you, but up at you; she is always standing just half a step outside the circle. She gives the appearance, in short, not of a drudge, but of a poor relation, someone invited to the wedding but not to the wedding feast," wrote W. G. Rogers in his 1946 memoir of the couple.[2]

Poet James Merrill wrote that before meeting her "one knew about the tiny stature, the sandals, the mustache, the eyes" but that he had not anticipated "the enchantment of her speaking voice—like a viola at dusk."[1]

Toklas and Stein were a couple until Stein's death in 1946.[3]

After Stein[edit]

Although Gertrude Stein had willed much of her estate to Toklas, including their shared art collection (some of them Picassos) housed in their apartment at 5, rue Christine, the couple's relationship had no legal recognition. As the paintings appreciated in value, Stein's relatives took action to claim them, eventually removing them from Toklas's residence while she was away on vacation and placing them in a bank vault. Toklas then relied on contributions from friends as well as writing to make a living.[4]

Toklas published her own literary memoir, a 1954 book that mixed reminiscences and recipes under the title The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. The most famous recipe therein (actually contributed by her friend Brion Gysin) was called "Haschich Fudge," a mixture of fruit, nuts, spices, and "canibus sativa," [sic] or marijuana. Her name was later lent to the range of cannabis concoctions called Alice B. Toklas brownies. The cookbook has been translated into numerous languages. A second cookbook followed in 1958 called Aromas and Flavors of Past and Present; however, Toklas did not approve of it as it had been heavily annotated by Poppy Cannon, an editor from House Beautiful magazine. She also wrote articles for several magazines and newspapers, including The New Republic and the New York Times.

In 1963 she published her autobiography, What Is Remembered, which abruptly ends with Stein's death.

Her later years were very difficult because of poor health and financial problems. Toklas became a Roman Catholic convert in her old age. She died in poverty at the age of 89 and is buried next to Stein in Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris, France; her name is engraved on the back of Stein's headstone.[5]


The 1968 Peter Sellers movie I Love You, Alice B. Toklas was named for Toklas's cannabis brownies, which play a significant role in the plot.

The Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, a political organization founded in 1971 in San Francisco, is a namesake of Toklas.

Samuel Steward, who met Toklas and Stein in the 1930s, edited Dear Sammy: Letters from Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (1977) and wrote two mystery novels featuring Stein and Toklas as characters: Murder Is Murder Is Murder (1985) and The Caravaggio Shawl (1989).

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted in 1989 to rename a block of Myrtle Street between Polk Street and Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco as Alice B. Toklas Place, since Toklas was born one block away on O'Farrell Street.[6][7]


  1. ^ a b Merrill, James. A Different Person: A Memoir, New York: Alfred P. Knopf, 1993, p. 75.
  2. ^ Rogers, W. G. When this you see remember me GERTRUDE STEIN in person, New York: Rinehart and Co., 1946.
  3. ^ "Alice B. Toklas Life Stories, Books, & Links". Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  4. ^ Linda Wagner-Martin, Favored Strangers: Gertrude Stein and Her Family (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1995), 269.
  5. ^ Linzie, Anna (2006), The True Story of Alice B. Toklas: A Study of Three Autobiographies, University of Iowa Press, ISBN 978-0-87745-985-9 
  6. ^ Herscher, Elaine (1998-07-01), "Paving the Way for Gays: S.F. may name street for lesbian Alice B. Toklas", San Francisco Chronicle, retrieved 2009-11-08 
  7. ^ "Board of Supervisors : September 22, 1998". City and County of San Francisco. 1998-09-22. Retrieved 2009-11-08. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]