Marie Dressler was nominated for best actress in this story of a devoted housekeeper.
Emma (Marie Dressler) is taking care of a young boy and two girls and their inventor father when the mother dies in child birth. Emma gets the baby boy Ronnie breathing. Twenty years later Isabelle (Myrna Loy) is married to a count, and Bill is fighting with his wife. Ronnie (Richard Cromwell) wants to quit school to become a flyer. After 32 years of service Emma is going on a vacation to Niagara Falls. The father Mr. Smith (Jean Hersholt) has become a millionaire and takes Emma to the station. She is so concerned about the household, she does not want to go; but he decides to go with her and marry her. She says she must be dreaming, and just then her alarm clock sounds. When the children get the news of the marriage, Ronnie is happy; but the others are upset. Emma and Mr. Smith go rowing on the lake, and Mr. Smith collapses. She puts him to bed and gives him his medicine as usual. She plays the piano and sings, as he dies.
Mr. Smith's last will leaves all his property to his wife Emma for the children, and she wants to give it to them. However, when the children threaten to challenge the will by questioning his sanity, she gets angry and throws them out of the house, which angers them all but delights Ronnie, who asks her for a plane. The district attorney brings murder charges based on circumstantial evidence that Emma gave her husband too many pills at once. Coming back from the Canada wilderness by plane Ronnie reads about the trial. He sends a telegram and flies in a storm to help Emma. Emma is more worried about the children than her own case in spite of her lawyer's fears. She testifies simply. The lawyer argues that the children are greedy and hateful; but Emma disagrees and won't let him say that. The jury finds her not guilty. The lawyer gets news of Ronnie's death in a plane crash just before Emma gets his telegram.
Emma gives all the money to the children and confesses she was a fool. The children and Emma comfort each other; Isabelle and the others ask her to stay with them. Emma says they belong to each other but goes and finds another job taking care of a large family with several little children. The mother agrees to name the new baby Ronnie.
This touching character study of a truly selfless and compassionate woman with an abundance of common sense and humble practicality focuses on her special relationship with Ronnie, who constantly calls her beautiful, obviously for her inner beauty. The maternal caring she demonstrates for all the children makes the materialistic fears of the other children seem selfish and insignificant.