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In 1890, Dolly Levi, a widowed New York City Jewish matchmaker, journeys to Yonkers, home of Horace Vandergelder, a wealthy grain merchant whom she would like to marry. Horace wants Dolly to take his niece, Ermengarde, to New York, where the girl will be protected from the attentions of Ambrose Kemper, an impoverished young artist. In addition, he reveals his intention to marry Irene Molloy, a pretty New York milliner, an announcement that inspires Dolly to devise a plan to keep Horace for herself. First, she instructs Ermengarde and Ambrose to escape to New York, hoping they will win first prize in the dance contest given at the elegant Harmonia Gardens restaurant. Upon overhearing that Cornelius and Barnaby, the destitute clerks from Horace's store, are planning to take a day off in the owner's absence, Dolly advises them to visit Irene's shop but not to reveal who has sent them. The girl-shy clerks follow her suggestion and introduce themselves as wealthy sophisticates to Irene and her assistant, Minnie Fay, but their visit is aborted when they spot Horace and Dolly about to enter. The boys hide and conceal their identity, but all marriage potential between Horace and Irene is dissolved when he discovers the two men. Pleased with the outcome of her plan, Dolly persuades Cornelius and Barnaby to take the girls to Harmonia Gardens for dinner and also arranges for Horace to be met there by a new marriage prospect, the heiress Ernestina Simple, who is, in fact, Dolly's actress friend Gussie Granger. Exquisitely coiffed and gowned, Dolly makes a dazzling entrance at the restaurant, where she charms Horace until he is about to propose to her; but he spots Ermengarde and Ambrose on the dance floor. In his hectic pursuit of the couple, Horace incites a ruckus that climaxes when he discovers his two clerks using the melee as an opportunity to sneak away from an unpaid check. He fires them, but Dolly, disgusted by Horace's lack of charity, leaves him in anger. The next morning, however, the merchant repents and gives Ermengarde and Ambrose permission to marry, promotes Cornelius and Barnaby, and finally asks Dolly to marry him, thereby making the matchmaker's scheme a total success.