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During the depression of the 1930's, eight young women graduate from college and confidently face their futures. Lakey, the undisputed leader of the group, leaves for an extended stay in Europe. Dottie, a Boston Brahmin, abandons her well-ordered life to become the mistress of a Greenwich Village artist. Their affair lasts only one night, and the heartbroken Dottie returns to New England and the inevitable "proper" marriage to an Arizona business magnate. Priss, quiet and frail, is forced to give up her dream of working for President Roosevelt's poverty program when Congress declares it to be illegal. Instead, she marries an ambitious pediatrician and has two miscarriages before finally giving birth to a son. Her husband's insistence that their child be breast-fed results in a physically weak and exhausted Priss and a spoiled child. Kay, nervous and insecure, quickly marries a young playwright and helps support him by working at Macy's, but he has a weakness for liquor and other women. During a party at their apartment, when the entire group except Lakey is present, the failure of Kay's marriage, as well as her husband's career, becomes obvious. Polly, sweet and practical, takes a hospital job and has a brief, unrewarding affair with an indecisive man who cannot break the ties holding him to his estranged wife and his psychiatrist. She does, however, find happiness with a young doctor. Helena, rich, talented, and the class valedictorian, is denied her parents' permission to teach and spends her unmarried life traveling, collecting art, and giving teas. Libby, attractive and the most ambitious of the group, plunges into New York's literary set and rapidly achieves professional success but is frigid and a personal failure. Finally there is Pokey, who, after short-lived flings at flying lessons and veterinary classes, becomes an uncomplicated wife and the mother of two sets of twins. In 1939, war pressures in Europe force Lakey to return. The entire group assembles to meet her, and upon seeing her mannish baroness companion, they realize that Lakey is a lesbian. At a party celebrating Polly's engagement to her doctor, the radio announces Hitler's invasion of Holland and Belgium. Polly, worried about Kay, who has had a nervous breakdown following a violent marriage breakup, telephones her at her apartment. Hysterical, Kay has heard the newscast and, hearing what she believes to be German planes overhead, leans too far out of a window and plunges to her death. At the funeral, her arrogant husband is quietly but firmly rebuked by Lakey.