The Bradley family has had a long history in the coal-mining town of Glen Daniel, West Virginia. Grandpa Bradley was union leader there for many years. His daughter, Babe—a Mother Courage of the mountains, now uses their home as general store where she also raises her daughter, Libby, and takes care of her mother, Grandma Bradley. Babe vows to get Libby the education she needs to better herself, purchasing her the "Cyclopedia Americana" and sending her to summer school. Now sixteen, Libby is discovering many things in her life, including Owen, the twenty-year-old miner who wants to marry her. When Libby tells her mother that she wants to stay in Glen Daniel, Babe panics, and attempts, unsuccessfully, to change Libby's mind. Then, Geneva, Babe's friend, takes Libby to the circus where an old neighbor's boy, Newton Horton, is the high-wire act. Hearing this, Babe invites Newton to the house for dinner and convinces him to encourage Libby to leave Glen Daniel and get an education. He does his job so well, in fact, he asks Libby to accompany him in the circus for a while—all honorable—so she can see the world. Babe consents, with the scorn of Grandma Bradley, and the spite of Owen, who organizes the miners to boycott the general store, making life difficult for the Bradleys. Libby goes with Newton, has a great time, so it seems, and by the end of the summer she and Newton are engaged, but when she shows up one day in Glen Daniel something is definitely wrong. Libby confesses that seeing the world means witnessing its terrors and sadness, and all she really wants to do is return home, live with her mother and grandmother, and create a better life there rather that run away from it. Babe threatens everything she can think of to get her daughter to go back to Newton. No match for the will of her mother and daughter, however, she aligns herself with generations of Bradley women in order to rebuild their lives and set examples for the next generation.
"There hasn't been a play with this honesty around in years. Frank Higgins has written a play that deeply makes you reflect on your own life." —Wilton Bulletin. "The SWEET BY 'N' BY is a winner." —Darien News. "The writing is wonderful, full of cadence and reality and humor and pathos." —Bristol Courier. "THE SWEET BY 'N' BY is the solid, penetrating, raw stuff good dramatic theatre is made of. See it." —Abingdon Virginian.