Logline: In the height of America’s manufactural growth, one woman will rise from the ashes to fight for the helpless women and children caught in the darkness of the Industrial Revolution.
In Chicago in the year 1888, a woman named MARIE CONNOLLY, a strong, caring, and attractive woman, cares for her dying husband, THOMAS. Her young children have become aware that their father is gravely ill and Marie is aware that he will soon die. Thomas urges a devastated and very frightened Marie to be strong for him and the children and he tells her that he knows she will take good care of the life they have built together. After Thomas’s death, Marie comforts her four children and begins frantically looking for employment to sustain them. She is turned down by business after business and late one night, as she walks home from another failed attempt at employment, she notices a severely undernourished and dirty-faced LITTLE BOY leaving a factory. The factory owner emerges and Marie listens as he harshly scolds the boy for not finishing his day’s work. Outraged, she lays into the factory owner, defending the boy and she asks what sort of facility he’s running.
The factory owner is left speechless and Marie escorts the young boy back home. The next day, still disturbed by the incident with the child worker, Marie heads down to the City of Chicago Health Department and shares what happened. The head of the Health Department, JAMES HERRON, a reserved but affable man, sees the passion in her to help child workers and offers her a job as a City Health Inspector. Thrilled, Marie accepts the position and begins working with four other women: CLARA TOWNSEND, LOUISE PINKSTON, AMY HARRINGTON, and MARY STUART. Marie is strengthened by the friendships she forms with them but they all discover that they are prohibited from entering many of the factories without a search warrant. Undaunted, Marie approaches James and asks what she needs to do to obtain search warrants. James tells her that she needs testimonies from the workers about their jeopardous working conditions. Marie begins tirelessly collecting testimonies from the factory workers she knows in her neighborhood.
She listens to many grisly accounts of the happenings in the factories, documents them, hands them in to James, and receives her search warrants. As she begins searching the factories with her colleagues, Marie discovers that the conditions are even worse than what was described. She begins working to enforce child labor laws by shortening work days. James commends her for her hard work but Maries is not satisfied. She begins forming schools in department stores so that child workers can receive an education. As the devastating working conditions are publically exposed and public officials are pressured to do more, James suggests that Marie be transferred to the Police Department. A police deputy named HARLAN GRUBER, a skeptical, cantankerous and calculating man, lets Marie know that if she passes the Civil Service Exam, she will become a police officer. In light of her emerging career, Marie has asked a neighbor, IVA LANGLEY, to watch her children during the day. Marie studies for her exam night after night and her anxiety begins to escalate as her children start acting up.
Marie struggles with the stress and frustration of being a working mother and one night she lashes out at her youngest son. Deeply remorseful, Marie embraces her son and realizes she must be more diligent in finding ways to balance her home and work life. She takes her exam the next morning and gets a near perfect score. Marie gains great success as a police officer and is given the title of Detective Sergeant, powers of arrest and an official police star. She is also given the salary of a special policeman and begins to gain the respect of many of her fellow male officers. With her new salary, she purchases a new home in a better neighborhood close by. Though skeptical of Marie at first, Deputy Gruber is now shamefully jealous of her and is driven to find a way to destroy Marie’s career.
He tracks down some disgruntled factory workers and interrogates them to find out how Marie worked to have them shut down. Gruber then falsifies Marie’s documentations of the factories, changing past documentations, and discrediting her. He calls her records into question in front of her fellow officers and Marie is helpless against Gruber’s seniority. Rumors and whispers begin to spread about Marie and she is told that she will have to come in to be accessed by Chief of Police STANLEY O’BRIEN. Deeply weary and discouraged, Iva reminds Marie of the swirling rumors about her and that law enforcement is an unfeminine pursuit. She says that Marie should quit for her children’s sake. Iva’s comments are the last straw for Marie and she fires back that she is not concerned about her reputation but that she is devoted to helping women and children escape the greed of the factories.
Unbeknownst to Marie, many of the women and children that she has helped from the beginning up till now have heard of the slander against her and when Marie walks into the police station for her assessment she sees a flood of women and their children there to defend her name. Chief O’Brien walks into an office flooded with women and children, demanding to know what is going on. One of the women speaks up and says that they are there to address the false accusations against Marie. The women and some of the children give first-hand accounts of what their lives were like before Marie Owens intervened and how she went above and beyond to care for them.
Maries sees the same boy she first helped that night there to defend her and she is overcome with emotional gratitude. Chief O’Brien listens to them one-by-one and he approaches Marie and says that her “work speaks for itself” and commends her for changing so many lives. Suspecting who has caused Marie so much trouble, O’Brien gruffly confronts Gruber and says he will have to speak with him later. A week later, Marie is given a special award in front of her fellow officers and applause fills the room as she joyously and graciously receives the award.