After a military officer (Bruce Cabot) gets Ann Vickers (Irene Dunne) pregnant and leaves her, her baby dies during birth. Feeling stunned, Ann devotes herself to social work, taking a job in a women's prison. However, when she tries to improve the conditions there, she loses her job. She instead writes a book about the harsh realities of the prison and begins a romance with a married judge, Barney Dolphin (Walter Huston). This helps her career but frustrates her wish for a family.