Tenant farmer Frank Warrens wife dies, leaving him with two small children Belva Jane, 5, and Stanley, 3. He spurns advice to put his children up for adoption. Instead, he hires a widow from a nearby town, Bertha Grossbaum, as a housekeeper. She is physically and psychologically abusive to the children, especially to Belva Jane who has a learning disability that affects her ability to concentrate. When Belva Jane turns 14, the housekeeper (now her stepmother) contrives to commit her to a girls training school for delinquents. A new administrator at the school determines that Belva Jane is not delinquent and should be elsewhere. Belva Jane cannot return to her home because of the objections of her tormentor. Tests are ordered for Belva Jane, one of which labels her as high-grade feebleminded. Based on that finding, she is transferred to what was long known as the states Home for the Feeble-minded and assigned to care for hydrocephalic infants, a task that is emotionally devastating. Belva Jane asks her father to seek a parole for her, which he does successfully with the assistance of relatives, but she can be released only if she is sterilized. This an inspirational story of the huge price a young woman pays for her freedom, but who marries, cares for several small children until they are teen-agers and makes it her mission to shower her love on them and on lonely and ailing relatives and friends in her part of Nebraska.