Born in 1874 in Alleghany, Pennsylvania. After studying medicine, she moved with her brother to Paris in 1902. She frequented modern art circles (Picasso would paint a portrait of her in 1906). Her apartment became a place where artists of the pictorial and literary avant-garde met. It was there that the “lost generation” (James Joyce, Francis Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway) was formed. In 1907, she met Alice Toklas (1877-1967), also an American writer, who remained her companion until the end of her life. During the First World War, faithful to their adopted country, they supply the hospitals of the front by car.
After the war, the two Americans discover the Bugey by traveling to the South to join Picasso. They multiplied their stays in Belley, where François Pernollet, a renowned restaurateur, introduced them to the local gastronomy (Alice Toklas would write books mixing memories and cooking recipes). From the spring of 1929, they rented a house in Billignin, then in Culoz from 1943. They spent six months a year in the Bugey region until the death of Gertrude Stein in 1946. Toklas, which led to a lecture tour of the United States. Until then, she had been known mainly in artistic circles, but she gained enormous notoriety in Great Britain and the United States. This book mentions the Bugey, Billignin and Belley. Both Jewish, Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas took shelter in Bugey to escape persecution during World War II.
Billignin’s main street bears her name.