I grew up watching so many war documentaries, (thanks Dad!), that you'd think I would've become quite the historian on the subject- but surprisingly, I never knew anything about these amazing female volunteers, until my friend Mary Vertanen told me about it a couple years ago!
Starting in WWI, the Salvation Army decided that there was a need to set up "huts" in France to service the enlisted men near the front lines. In all, 250 female volunteers were sent over seas to bring some "comfort", and a bit of "home" to the soldiers on the front lines. These women were sent over for a year, (the standard enlistment period), to visit the soldiers in the camps and hospitals, run religious services, mend clothes, help with mailings, cook, serve coffee & hot chocolate, etc.
While stationed in France in 1917, two ladies by the name of Helen Purviance and Margaret Sheldon, decided to make a "treat" for the men. Resources were limited, but they decided to fry up some "doughnuts". So, they used a wine bottle as a rolling pin, and made "crullers" by cutting the dough into strips and twisting them. Since there was no adequate pot, they had to use a soldier's metal helmet to fry only 7 doughnuts at a time! They became so popular with the soldiers, that this group of female volunteers became known as the "Donut Lassies". It was documented on a busy day that according to Margaret Sheldon, "Today I made 22 pies, 300 doughnuts, and 700 cups of coffee." Wow.......an incredible feat under those circumstances! As time went on and the demand for their donuts grew, the ladies got crafty and created their own special donut cutters, and enlisted more help and resources. I've read the memoirs of another "Donut Lassie", ( Signa Leona Saunders of MN), who told her story of the entire year- from start to finish of her experience in France. These women may not have been armed and trained soldiers, but the horrors they experienced, the pain and suffering, the fear of being "gassed", bombed, and fired at.......and they worked tirelessly on top of it in wretched conditions- to bring some "cheer", and compassion to those men that desperately missed home! In my book, they were soldiers in their own right.
By the end of their "tour", they were cranking out between 2,500- 9,000 doughnuts to our soldiers! The doughnut became a true symbol of warmth and comfort to the men during war time, so much so that even the soldiers returning home from WWI were referred to as the "Doughboys"! In wars since, (including WWII, Korean Conflict, and Vietnam), the Salvation Army and Red Cross have sent female volunteers over seas as "Donut Lassies or Dollies" to provide coffee, donuts, writing materials, cigarettes, etc. and to simply visit with the men to lift their spirits during a dark time in history.
During the Depression in 1938, the Salvation Army wanted to raise funds to help those struggling, so they devised the first Friday in June to be "National Donut Day", (which is Friday, June 6th this year.) This was also meant to be a day to honor all soldiers and "Donut Lassies".
Although I will be thinking about all my relatives and ancestors who have fought in every war since the American Revolution, I will also be thinking about this amazing, and special group of women in American history, who gave so much of themselves during war times- to shine some light into the darkness.