Salvation Army’s ‘Doughnut Girls’ on hand for July 4At the mere mention of The Doughnut Girls, countless ex-soldiers, history buffs and dedicated volunteers will no doubt break into a knowing smile. The famous Doughnut Girls of the two world wars were The Salvation Army’s way of helping out with the war effort in a remarkably simple and heartfelt way – by serving homemade doughnuts concocted from a handful of basic ingredients to soldiers in the field.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
At the mere mention of The Doughnut Girls, countless ex-soldiers, history buffs and dedicated volunteers will no doubt break into a knowing smile. The famous Doughnut Girls of the two world wars were The Salvation Army’s way of helping out with the war effort in a remarkably simple and heartfelt way – by serving homemade doughnuts concocted from a handful of basic ingredients to soldiers in the field.
In an effort to resurrect the spirit of the famous humanitarian effort and pay tribute to our country’s veterans at the same time, staff and volunteers of the local Salvation Army will be serving doughnuts on the corner of Cloquet Avenue and 14th Street during the city’s annual Fourth of July parade.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do for many years,” said Jackie Meyer of the Cloquet Salvation Army office. “Every once in a while someone will come in to donate something and tell about how their father or grandfather recalled how The Salvation Army was always there for him on the front lines [during the war] with a doughnut and a cup of coffee.”
Meyer remarked that many people only think of today’s Salvation Army as a food shelf, though social services and outreach are very much a part of what the organization is all about. She said she hopes that by serving doughnuts at the Fourth of July celebration, the Salvation Army will perpetuate the gesture made so many years ago in honoring today’s soldiers and veterans.
“So many soldiers have not been made to realize how much they are appreciated,” Meyer stated. “My son is in the military, also, and it means so much to me personally to recognize our troops in some way.”
The tradition of The Doughnut Girls was first started when American soldiers were deployed overseas during World War I. According to an account by The Salvation Army International Heritage Center, most soldiers were psychologically unprepared for what lay ahead of them. Sensing that a morale crisis may well be at hand, The Salvation Army’s USA National Commander, Evangeline Booth, sent Lt.-Colonel William S. Barker to France to find out just how The Salvation Army could best serve the American troops.
Booth discovered that in many cases, the soldiers were homesick, disillusioned and faced with the tedium of drilling in the mud from morning to night while waiting to be sent up to the front lines.
In response, Booth created a National War Board to help meet the needs of American soldiers, setting up service centers and hostels adjacent to the overseas U.S. military camps and sending a group of Salvation Army officers to do what they could to improve the morale and well-being of the troops.
Two of the female officers decided what the soldiers needed most was “some real home cooking,” but supplies had run out and were difficult to buy locally. The only things they could purchase were flour, sugar, lard, baking powder, cinnamon and canned milk.
As the account goes, their initial thought was to make pancakes for the soldiers, but without syrup or a means to keep them hot, the idea was soon rejected in favor of doughnuts.
“The first doughnuts were patted out by hand,” according to The Salvation Army’s International Heritage Center account. “A small wood fire was coaxed in a low, pot-bellied stove. A frying pan was used and the first doughnuts were fried seven at a time. The tempting fragrance of frying doughnuts drew the homesick soldiers to the hut, and they lined up in the rain, waiting for a taste. Soon the word began to go around, ‘If you’re hungry and broke, you can get something to eat at The Salvation Army.’”
“The Doughnut Girls,” as they soon became known, did far more than just serve doughnuts, however. They often worked in field hospitals and attended the funerals of the soldiers who had died, offering songs, prayers and wildflowers at the graves – of American and German soldiers alike.