Based on a novel by Netta Syrett, A Woman Rebels is the story of Pamela Thistlewaite (Katharine Hepburn), whose mission in life is to defy the restrictive and often hypocritical conventions of Victorian England. Refusing to conform to the status quo, Pamela lives alone, reads, and says whatever she wishes, and even -- horrors! -- takes a job. Her romantic dalliance with young Gerald (Van Heflin, in his film debut) results in an illegitimate daughter (Doris Dudley), whom Pamela raises as her niece until she decides it's high time to tell the truth in all matters. Faithful suitor Thomas Lane (Herbert Marshall) offers to make an "honest woman" of her, but Pamela refuses until she can stand on her own two feet financially. Fiercely independent to the last, she becomes the crusading editor of a pioneering pro-feminist magazine and an early champion of Women's Suffrage. It was hoped by RKO Radio that The Woman Rebels would restore the popularity of Katharine Hepburn, which thanks to a series of expensive failures had been flagging for the past two years. Though the film turned out to be a box-office loser (it posted a $220,000 deficit), in retrospect it can be regarded as an artistic triumph -- and a remarkably timely one at that.
by Hal Erickson synopsis