This dramatization of the inspiring career of Edna Gladney shows how she married and lost her child but helped many orphaned children to find parents.
In 1905 Edna Kahly (Greer Garson) is engaged to Damon but tells Charlotte (Marsha Hunt) a cashier she met says he will marry her. Charlotte is going to marry Allan Keats (William Henry). Cashier Sam Gladney (Walter Pidgeon) arrives and dances with Edna. Sam tells her he is going back to Texas to get his home ready for her. They write letters, and Sam comes back. Charlotte suggests a double wedding, but Allan's mother learned that Charlotte was a foundling. Charlotte gives Edna her bracelet and shoots herself.
Sam gets Dr. Max Breslar (Felix Bressart) for Edna's baby. Sam learns it would be dangerous for Edna to have another child. A few years later their son dies. In 1914 Max asks Edna to take in an orphan for one night, but she gets upset and refuses. G. Harrington Hedger calls on Sam, finds a nursery with twenty children, and gives him a foreclosure notice on his wheat mill. They auction their possessions and move to Fort Worth, where Sam works in a mill. Edna takes Sam his lunch and files a wheat patent for him. In court Edna sees illegitimate child Tony (Pat Barker) rejected and adopts him and another. Black servant Zeke (Clinton Rosemond) arrives and stays.
Edna starts the Texas Children's Home and Aid Society. She works to find the right parents for each child. Haughty Mrs. Gilworth (Cecil Cunningham) is perturbed by questions and stalks out, and Edna is called before a board and closed down for lack of funds. Max tells Edna that Sam is ill. Sam tells her he sold his process and dies. Edna solicits contributions door to door. Edna gives a child to adopting parents and presents cynical La Verne (Marc Lawrence) with his unwanted child.
Helen (Mary Taylor) gives Edna $700 and cries she won't marry because of her birth certificate. Edna takes poison from Helen's purse and encourages her to marry. Edna tells Max they must remove "illegitimate" from birth records. Politicians are skeptical of her idea. Three ladies complain that Edna's legislation is immoral. La Verne demands to know the rich parents of his son, but Edna won't tell him even if she may go to jail. However, the judge (Henry O'Neill) disqualifies himself and lets her go. In Austin Senator Cotton (Clarence Kolb) argues for the bill, and Edna speaks from the gallery, saying that parents, not babies, are illegitimate. Tony shows Edna he can walk now. Edna learns her bill passed. Mr. Eldredge tells Edna his wife really needs to adopt Tony; but Edna refuses to give him up and tells Max she is resigning to keep him. A policeman brings Edna two boys, and she takes care of them. Edna then gives the Eldredge couple Tony.
This true story challenges traditional social prejudices
against illegitimacy that harm innocent children. Edna finds she
can do much more good helping many children than by raising one