Sing in the Morning, Cry at Night opens on September 4, 1913, two months after the Fourth of July tragedy. Owen, the girls' father, "turns to drink" and abandons his family. Their mother Grace falls victim to the seductive powers of Grief, an imagined figure who has seduced her off-and-on since childhood. Violet forms an unlikely friendship with Stanley Adamski, a motherless outcast who works in the mines as a breaker boy.
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In 1930, 25-year-old Violet travels with her 16-year-old sister Lily from Scranton, Pennsylvania, to the Good Shepherd Infant Asylum in Philadelphia, so Lily can deliver her illegitimate child in secret. In doing so, Violet jeopardizes her engagement to her longtime sweetheart, Stanley Adamski. Meanwhile, Mother Mary Joseph, who runs the Good Shepherd, has no idea the asylum's physician, Dr. Peters, is involved in eugenics and experimenting on the girls with various sterilization techniques.