Do you know that donuts were used as a morale booster for the military throughout the 20th century? Donuts and the women who served them played very important wartime roles, providing troops with a little taste of home. 

During World War I, uniformed civilian organizations worked to support American soldiers in Europe. The Salvation Army established service centers wherever troops were stationed- and faced the same dangers of shells and gas. Among those who traveled to the Front were women tasked with lifting the spirits of the troops by providing simple pleasures that could help distract them from the hardships of war. What better way to remind soldiers of home than to cook a beloved food – donuts!

With limited ingredients and supplies, these women began frying donuts in October 1917, earning the nickname “Donut Lassies.” Eventually, they were serving close to nine thousand donuts daily! The donuts made the Salvation Army very popular and came to represent its critical role in the American war effort. In 1938, Congress established the first Friday in June as National Donut Day to honor the Donut Lassies.  

The YMCA, likewise, sent women to Europe to lift morale. Ethel Ash, a “Y girl” who traveled to Verdun, France in the spring of 1919, routinely made between 500 and 900 donuts a day with no milk or eggs available to her. Additionally, she was expected to plan and attend parties with soldiers. After Verdun, she ran a soda fountain in Paris.  

The services women provided in World War II once again included wholesome entertainment and delicious treats. The American Red Cross sent women overseas to work in mobile service clubs to keep troops fed and entertained. The “clubmobiles” were equipped with coffee and donut-making equipment and were operated by three women volunteers each. The women became known as “Donut Dollies,” and the goods they served were a symbol for the wartime Red Cross. They traveled to military posts throughout Europe and stayed with the Allied occupation army until 1946. 

The Donut Dollies returned to the war front in Korea and Vietnam. Now known officially as the Supplemental Recreational Activities Overseas, the female volunteers were able to make up to 20,000 donuts a day. Again, these courageous women followed soldiers into war zones.  

From World War I through the Vietnam War, women risked their lives to fulfill their mission of lifting the morale of American troops. Donuts became a recipe for the soul as well as the stomach. The service and sacrifice of the “donut girls” should always be remembered.

Women who served in these capacities are eligible to register their service at the Military Women’s Memorial in one of the “We Also Served” categories which include those who served overseas during conflicts in direct support of the military in organizations such as the Red Cross, USO, Special Services, Salvation Army, YWCA, YMCA, OSS, Army Signal Corps, Hello Girls, WATS, etc. As well as the uniformed civilian organizations such as WASP, CAP, and USCG Auxiliary.