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In 1902, after the death of her father, John Chase Randall, Louise Randall learns that her family is penniless. Eventually, her mother sells her jewelry so that Louise may attend college. As her father had always advised her to aim for the stars, Louise rapidly learns typing and shorthand, determined to "be on the inside looking out." After completing a successful temporary job at a shipyard, Louise and her friend Alice move to New Haven, Connecticut, where they rent a room in the same house as Yale University students Rodney Crane and Jack Leslie. Jack and Alice fall in love and marry, and Rodney proposes to Louise. Although Louise wants to work after marriage, the more conventional Rodney insists that she stay home. Defying convention, Louise does not wear white to her wedding, will not vow to obey her husband and does not take his name. The couple moves to New York City, where Louise gives birth in quick succession to Barbara, John, Rod, Jr. and Louise, Jr. During World War I, Louise plants a victory garden and sells bonds. She finds a huge ramshackled house on the Hudson River and moves her family there. One day, Louise, Jr. gets sick and it is discovered that all the children have polio. Louise nurses the children, willing Louise, Jr. back to health from the brink of death. After their recovery, Louise works hard to help Louise, Jr. overcome her paralysis. When Rod loses his job after the war, Louise keeps her spirits up and gets a job herself. Rod perceives this as a lack of sympathy, and after he finds a job, he falls in love with another woman and leaves Louise. At a friend's costume party, Louise meets Harold Pierson, the black sheep of a wealthy family, who seems to be as much of a free spirit as she. He proposes marriage immediately and Louise accepts. During the prosperous 1920s, they have a child, Frank, and pay off most of their debts. They invest their money in rose bushes, but by the time the flowers are ready to harvest, the market has collapsed. The Piersons' possessions are auctioned off and the family moves to a new city. Harold then invests in a newly designed airplane just before the stock market crash of 1929. During the Depression, the older boys go to Yale and Barbara marries. The remaining family moves to a smaller apartment, and Harold gets a job selling vacuum cleaners. Later he is hired to manage the New York World's Fair. When the United States enters World War II, the boys become soldiers and the underaged Frank asks his parents to sign a release so that he can also join the army. Harold reassures a worried Louise, saying that with her as their example, the boys will be fine. Harold and Louise agree that America is a wonderful country because its citizens are free to dream.