Alice B. Toklas was born on April 30, 1877, in San Francisco, California. Known best as the longtime companion of Gertrude Stein, Toklas was also an author in her own right. Toklas and Stein conducted one of the most famous literary salons in Paris, where they hosted an exceptional array of authors, including Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Not limited to the literary arts, cultural icons such as Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin, and Paul Robeson also visited their salon.
Stein and Toklas toured the United States for six months in 1934 and 1935, with Stein presenting more than 70 lectures. In early February 1935, the two women, accompanied by Carl Van Vechten, came to Richmond. After lecturing in Charlottesville, the group arrived by car in Richmond on February 5, 1935, and were hosted to a dinner at the home of famed Richmond author, Ellen Glasgow. Fellow Richmond author James Branch Cabell attended, as did Mark Lutz, Hunter Stagg, and Van Vechten. After a night at the Jefferson Hotel, Stein spoke the following day at the Cannon Memorial Chapel on the campus of the University of Richmond, and also visited the sites of one of her favorite authors, Edgar Allen Poe. The Poe Foundation hosted an afternoon tea.
The Carl Van Vechten – Mark Lutz Collection, housed in the Galvin Rare Book Room here at the University of Richmond, contains many materials documenting the long relationship between Stein, Toklas, Lutz, and Van Vechten. A noted photographer, Van Vechten took numerous photographs of the two women, especially documenting their American tour. The collection contains photographic prints made by Van Vechten as well as literary and cultural materials from both Stein and Toklas. The letters from Toklas to Lutz, for example, solidify making the arrangements for their visit to Richmond.
Toklas died in Paris on March 7, 1967, at the age of 89.