Based on Notta Syrett's novel, a Victorian woman bears a child secretly and writes about women's rights while sacrificing her chance to marry.
In Victorian England Judge Thistlewaite (Donald Crisp) objects to his daughter Pamela (Katharine Hepburn) reading forbidden books. He says he will select husbands for Pamela and Flora (Elizabeth Allan). Flora dances with Alan and is happy to be marrying him. Gerald (Van Heflin) invites Pamela to meet him in London alone, and at the wax museum he kisses her. Flora weds Alan. Left alone by her father, Pamela finds Gerald in her garden at night. At their next meeting Gerald tells Pamela that he is married.
Pamela goes to visit Flora and Alan in Italy. Trying to make the donkey go, Pamela falls down in the stream to the amusement of Thomas Lane (Herbert Marshall). Diplomat Thomas says that Pamela has relieved his boredom, but he has to leave. Flora is having a baby, and Pamela tells her she has to stay there too. News comes that Alan was killed, and Flora collapses. Flora makes Pamela promise that Pamela's baby will be thought hers, and she dies. Betty Bumble (Lucile Watson) insists a goat go on the boat for the baby's milk, and Thomas appears to gain permission. Pamela tells Thomas that men invented women's dependence and says she will live alone in London.
Pamela applies for jobs but is rejected because she is a woman. She gets a story published and asks for a position. The editor agrees if she will keep it secret. Thomas asks Pamela to go to Rome with him. He helps bathe the baby and asks Pamela to marry. She fears a scandal might ruin his career. Pamela needs an editorial, and a woman with her baby asks for her help because she was ejected from her home. Pamela gives her money. Pamela tells Thomas that she can't marry him. She gets a note from the woman, returning the money and implying suicide. Pamela writes an editorial on the shame of civilization, saying why the woman died. The editor wants to stop it but discovers the magazines are selling. Pamela writes more on women's rights and child labor.
Thomas visits Pamela and her daughter. Grown Flora (Doris Dudley) greets Thomas. He tells Pamela that she is going to Washington as his wife. Pamela says she loves him and that Flora is her daughter, agreeing to marry. Then Pamela sees Flora with young Gerald and tells her not to see him but won't give a reason. Flora refuses. Pamela goes to Gerald, explains, and asks his help. He says he will send his son abroad and admits he hates his wife but loved Pamela. Servants heard and tell his wife. Pamela asks Gerald to keep silent to his wife's charges. Flora angrily says that Pamela does not know love. Gerald's divorce causes a scandal, but Pamela refuses to say why she visited him. Pamela blames her father and his generation, but now women are beginning to have standing. Her father asks her to come home and kisses her. Flora comes back and says that Thomas told her. Thomas comes in and says that modern women are so weak.
This feminist drama portrays a woman challenging repressive Victorian sexism while having to keep secrets and avoid marriage because of the danger of public shame. Her rebellion represents the early stages of a revolution still in progress.