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The Donut Girls - History

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On The Front Lines Of World War I Soldiers Received Doughnuts & Coffee

DoughnutGirls

Since 1917, when a cheerful Salvation Army lassie handed a fresh doughnut to a homesick doughboy in France, The Salvation Army doughnut has symbolized loving concern for those in the armed forces.

In 1917 young Helen Purviance, an ensign in the Salvation Army, was sent to France to work with the American First Division. Putting her Hoosier ingenuity to work, she and a fellow officer, Ensign Margaret Sheldon, patted the first dough into shape by hand, but soon employed an ordinary wine bottle as a rolling pin. Since they had no doughnut cutter, the lassies used a knife to cut the dough into strips and then twisted them into crullers.

Ensign Helen Purviance and Crew - Inventors of the Doughnut as We Love It: Ensign Purviance coaxed the wood fire in the potbellied stove to keep it at an even heat for frying. Because it was back-breaking to lean over the low fire, she spent most of the time kneeling in front of the stove.

"I was literally on my knees," she recalled, "when those first doughnuts were fried, seven at a time, in a small frypan. There was also a prayer in my heart that somehow this home touch would do more for those who ate the doughnuts than satisfy a physical hunger,"

The Salvation Army in Action: Soon the tempting aroma of frying doughnuts drew a lengthy line of soldiers to the hut. Standing in mud and rain, they patiently waited their turn.

Although the girls worked late into the night, they could serve only 150 doughnuts the first day. The next day, that number was doubled. A while later, when fully equipped for the job, they fried from 2,500 to 9,000 doughnuts daily, as did other lassies along the frontline trenches.

After several soldiers asked, "Can't you make a doughnut with a hole in it?", Ensign Purviance had an elderly French blacksmith improvise a doughnut cutter by fastening the top of a condensed milk can and camphor-ice tube to a wooden block. Later, all sorts of other inventions were employed, such as the lid from a baking powder can or a lamp chimney to cut the doughnut, with the top of a coffee percolator to make the hole.

Ensign Stella Young of Everett, Massachusetts: The soldiers cheered the doughnuts and soon referred to Salvation Army lassies as "doughnut girls," even when they baked apple pies or other treats. The simple doughnut became a symbol of all that the Salvation Army was doing to ease the hardships of the frontline fighting man -- the canteens in primitive dugouts and huts, the free refreshments, religious services, concerts, and a clothes-mending service.

Today Salvation Army Red Shield Clubs and USO units offer members of the Armed Forces a variety of services, ranging from attractive recreational facilities to family counseling -- but the famous doughnut remains a perennial favorite.

Nor is it confined to those in uniform. During every sort of peacetime emergency --fires, floods, earthquake, transit strikes, blackouts -- The Salvation Army's mobile canteens have provided thousands of civilians with the doughnuts that stand for the Salvationist's loving concern and readiness to help in time of need.

 

Sources and thanks:   Susan Mitchem Director of the Archives at Salvation Army Headquarters provided this article. Susan, Lettie Gavin, and Herb Stickel provided the photos.

 


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