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Doughnut Girls: The Women Who Fried Donuts and Dodged Bombs on the Front Lines of World War I

During World War I, the Salvation Army sent women to France to lift the spirits of the soldiers – and to serve them comfort food. Their food of choice? Hot donuts. The women became known as “Doughnut Girls,”

When America entered the hostilities in April 1917, Evangeline Booth (USA National Commander) placed the entire Salvation Army in the USA on a war-service basis.

Hostels and service centers were established adjacent to military camps and when the American Expeditionary Force went to France, Lt-Colonel William Barker was dispatched to see how the Army could best serve them. In response to Barker's request to "Send over some Lassies", Evangeline dispatched a group of eleven handpicked officers, including four single women believing that quality mattered more than quantity. More officers followed and Salvation Army huts, rest-rooms and hostels soon sprang up wherever the American troops were stationed, some right at the front line where the women as well as men were in danger from shells and gas.

Evangeline Booth

In October 1917, Ensigns Helen Purviance and Margaret Sheldon, decided to lift the spirits of the troops by providing some real home cooking. With only flour, sugar, lard, baking powder, cinnamon and canned milk at their disposal it was agreed that they would make and serve Doughnuts. The dough was patted into shape by hand and fried, seven at a time, in a small pan. The tempting fragrance of frying doughnuts drew the homesick soldiers to the hut and they lined up in the rain waiting for a taste. Although the Ensigns worked late into the night, only one hundred and fifty were served. The next day the number was doubled and later, when fully equipped for the job they served up to nine thousand doughnuts daily.

Stella Young, a "Doughnut girl" holding a rolling pin and donut mold.

Stella Young holding pan of doughnuts.

American sheet music celebrating the Salvation Army “Doughnut girls.”

A Salvation Army poster for the campaign.

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Doughnut Girls: The Women Who Fried Donuts and Dodged Bombs on the Front Lines of World War I


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