The playwright Lillian Hellman (1906-1984) hit it big with her very first play, The Children's Hour. It tells the story of a pair of New England women, Martha Dobie and Karen Wright, who run a boarding school for girls. Their lives and school are turned upside down when a conniving student, Mary Tilford, spreads an unfounded rumor about a lesbian relationship between the two headmistresses. It turns out that there is an attraction between Martha and Karen, the latter who is engaged to the local doctor, Joe Cardin, who is also Mary's uncle. After Mary runs away from the school, she tells her story to her grandmother, and soon the gossip spreads to other parents of the schoolchildren. Although her grandmother does not initially believe her story, Mary blackmails another student, Rosalie Wells, in order to assure that she will back up her accusations. When Mary claims that Rosalie has actually witnessed the two women sexually engaged, Rosalie confirms Mary's story.
In the end, the two women become outcasts of their community, losing their school and reputations as well as a libel case against their accusers. Karen breaks off her engagement to Joe when he does not believe in her innocence, but Martha later reveals to Karen that she does, indeed, have romantic feelings for her friend. When Martha sees that Karen is disturbed by this revelation, she commits suicide.