Based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott, four sisters become adults while their father is away in the Civil War.
Mrs. Marmee March (Spring Byington) is working while her husband and son are in the Civil War. Jo (Katharine Hepburn) has to help her rich Aunt March (Edna May Oliver) and uses slang, and her sister Amy (Joan Bennett) dislikes her school and misuses big words. Jo shows Amy how to act in her play. Their father writes to his daughters he calls his "little women," and they all promise to do better. Beth (Jean Parker) suggests they use the four dollars Aunt March gave them to buy gifts for Marmee. They give their Christmas breaksfast to a poor family, but they get a meal from the Lawrences next door. Jo's play The Witch's Curse is presented by the sisters with Jo playing Roderigo. Jo visits Laurie (Douglass Montgomery), and they play the Hamlet-Laertes fencing scene. At a party his grandfather (Henry Stephenson) invites Beth to practice on his piano. Jo dances with Laurie and tells him she sold a story, and he tells her that John Brooke (John Lodge) has Meg's glove. Meg (Frances Dee) complains about Jo's romping. Beth is given a piano and thanks Mr. Lawrence.
Marmee is going to visit the father at a hospital in Washington, and Jo sells her hair to give her money. Beth says a baby got scarlet fever, and she soon gets it herself. Amy is sent to live with Aunt March, and Laurie promises to take her driving every day. Jo cries about Beth, and Laurie comforts her. Beth is better when the father returns. Jo tells Meg not to marry, and she agrees. Brooke tells Meg he loves her, but Aunt March chases him away. Meg admits she loves him, and they wed. Back from college, Laurie consoles Jo and says he wants her; but Jo says he likes society, and she doesn't; he does not like her writing, and so she says no. Jo goes to New York, where she cares for Mrs. Kirke's children and meets professor Bhaer (Paul Lukas). He wants to read her stories. Amy and Aunt March visit Jo on their way to Europe to join Laurie. Jo is disappointed but is consoled by Bhaer, who says she has talent. Jo and Bhaer attend an opera, but she has to visit Beth. Beth tells Jo not to be afraid and dies. Laurie returns married to Amy, and Jo tells Laurie they can love each other as brother and sister. Finally Bhaer asks Jo to marry, and she welcomes him home.
This cultured New England family demonstrates the values of caring for each other and self-sacrifice while enjoying life immensely. Each sister has her own talent and goals in life she must fufill, and yet they all support each other and their mother.