Gertrude Stein, the youngest of a family of five children, was born on February 3, 1874, in Allegheny, Pennsylvania (merged with Pittsburgh in 1907) to upper-class Jewish parents, Daniel and Amelia Stein. German and English were spoken at their home. Stein's father was a wealthy businessman with real estate holdings, and director of San Francisco street car lines, the Market Street Railway, in an era when public transportation was a privately owned enterprise.
When Stein was three years old she and her family moved to Vienna and then Paris. Accompanied by governesses and tutors, the Steins endeavored to imbue their children with the cultured sensibilities of European history and life. After a year-long sojourn abroad, they returned to America in 1878, settling in Oakland, California, where Stein attended First Hebrew Congregation of Oakland's Sabbath school.
Her mother died in 1888 and her father in 1891. Michael Stein, the eldest brother, took over the family business holdings. He arranged for Gertrude and another sister, Bertha, to live with their mother's family in Baltimore after the deaths of their parents. In 1892, she lived with her uncle David Bachrach. Bachrach had married Fanny Keyser, sister of Gertrude's mother Amelia, in 1877.
In Baltimore, Stein met Claribel Cone and Etta Cone, who held Saturday evening salons that she would later emulate in Paris. The Cones shared an appreciation for art and conversation about it and modeled a domestic division of labor that Stein would replicate in her relationship with Alice B. Toklas.