Judy Abbott is an orphan living in New York, who at the age of 17 finds herself in receipt of a college scholarship and monthly allowance from a mysterious benefactor. Her benefactor believes she has great potential as a writer and wishes to see her succeed. The only payment he asks in return is that she write him a letter every month addressed to the pseudonym "Mr. John Smith", with the understanding that he will never reply.
After her parents died, Judy is forced to stay in an orphanage managed by Ms. Lippett. She faced a lot of struggles as an orphan while also tending to younger orphans' needs. An opportunity came at most one of the five orphans to have a high-school scholarship and Judy was chosen to be the one.